Neil Walker’s role at Westfield School is about more than education; it’s about running a successful business producing successful students.
What is it the company does?
Westfield School is an independent girls’ school, for students aged from three to 18-years-old, providing a first-class education with a global outlook. We encourage girls to fulfil their academic potential while recognising that each one has their own individual talents to discover and develop. We produce high performing students who go on to have careers in fields from medicine and dentistry to engineering and the arts, as well as aspiring entrepreneurs.
What does your role involve?
As headmaster I oversee the operational running of the school, develop the strategic vision, and work closely with the school’s middle and senior leaders as well as our governors. I balance this with some teaching as I feel it is important for me to have the opportunity to engage with our students in the classroom. I also support staff with the many initiatives with which we are involved, from Round Square to the Duke of Edinburgh Award and Archbishop of York Youth Trust.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I started teaching in Hong Kong and moved back to the UK to teach in a state comprehensive in the South East. After working in two schools in Cheshire, I returned to the South East and moved to independent girls’ schools as head of psychology/biology/science, before becoming a deputy head teacher eight years ago. I then relocated to the North East to take my current role at Westfield School.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
A great leader has a clear vision of what goals need to be achieved, the passion to inspire others to want to get there too, the drive to make it happen and clarity of communication. Alongside this a great leader should have the desire to help others, compassion, humility and relentless optimism.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Communicating to the world what Westfield School stands for now – an academic, successful school with an international outlook, which helps girls to find and maximise their talents.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
Getting out into the countryside. I really enjoy long walks in the hills, plus visiting historic sites – I have a secret alter-ego as a living history interpreter/guide for the 14th century.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I grew up in Scarborough and wanted to be a doctor in the Royal Navy – instead I’m a biologist who occasionally sails!
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
Hearing the phrases “it’s always been like this” or “this is the way we’ve always done it.” In order to move forwards the benefits of change need to be communicated well.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
In five years’ time I’d like to see us as the preferred choice for independent education for girls in Newcastle. I see our reputation for leadership, entrepreneurship, STEM and international outlook growing, and in line with this we plan to grow the school.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Follow your passion and believe in what you do. If you can do these two things others will buy into your vision to help you make it a reality.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
How much fun leadership can be.