'Visionary' Shropshire college principal to leave after 16 years at the helm

A college principal who has been described as an 'educational visionary' and 'inspirational teacher' has announced he will leave his role after 16 years.

Neil Hawkins
Neil Hawkins

Neil Hawkins, 55, who has been principal of independent Concord College since 2005 is to relinquish the post from the beginning of September.

The chairman of trustees at the college, Dr Iain Bride, said that under Mr Hawkins' ‘dynamic leadership’ the academic success of the school was unprecedented.

“He has introduced a rigorous approach to all aspects of teaching and staff development with great success," he said.

"But perhaps a greater contribution has been the change he has brought about in the pastoral care of the students.

“Neil makes as many as four overseas visits a year and his success in persuading parents to choose Concord college is evidence by our places being full by Easter each year and having applications for several ahead.

“This is largely owing to his engaging personality and the confidence which he engenders in parents that he, personally, will take responsibility for their children’s education and welfare.

"Neil has proved himself to be an outstanding principal whom I have come to admire enormously."

During his 16-year tenure at Acton Burnell-based Concord, the college has consistently become one of the top five performing boarding schools in the UK.

Educated at Brentwood School and Cambridge University, where he studied history, Mr Hawkins developed an extensive knowledge of the UK education system in a career spanning 30 years.

Prior to his appointment at Concord College, he occupied positions of significant responsibility at The Leys as director of studies, Sevenoaks as head of history and Cranleigh as head of history and assistant housemaster.

Mr Hawkins said: “I became instantly aware on my interview day that I would be totally happy at Concord if I was fortunate enough to be appointed its principal.

"I could sense the magic and friendliness.

“I remember a phone call from the chairman of trustees advising I had been appointed and the great delight in the Hawkins household – it was a life-changing opportunity for the whole family.

“My wife Vanessa has been with me here and our son Philip, now 25, spent five years attending the college as a student.

"All of us appreciate what Concord has been able to give our family.

“I have been completely enriched by the experience. As a family it has given us opportunities we could never have dreamt of with lasting friendships around the world.

“It has opened my eyes to so much and it gives one a perception of humility, that the world is a huge and complex place, but potentially wonderful.

“The life changes I have personally experienced have given me a huge amount of perspective; I feel I have become a better human being for having experienced life at Concord.

“I am looking through a lens which is pretty clear. Having experienced many changes in the pandemic, what is important in life is trying to make the most of it and being a better person for others. It has been an utter privilege to have been Concord’s principal.”

He said the college was completely focused around three key elements – rigour, kindness and creativity.

“I love the way the staff have supported the goal that we expect to achieve high standards of behaviour," he added.

“To balance that is kindness; treating others as you wish to be treated yourself. Reaching out a hand and being willing to support others both formally through volunteering and informally with students wishing to help if they can help.

“An interesting element of the education we are offering is the development of creativity which is so important now and more important than a decade ago."

During his tenure the number of students at Concord has risen from 250 to 600 and staff numbers have trebled in size to over 350.

In addition, the campus has doubled in size and its facilities have been developed and improved immeasurably.

“The college is in a robust position,” said Mr Hawkins.

“There has been more interest in the school in the last 16 months in terms of enquiries and at the same time more applications than at any time in Concord’s history, despite the pandemic, which is remarkable and a tribute to the team."

In further tributes to Mr Hawkins, the college’s academic vice principal Tom Lawrence said: “Neil Hawkins has taken an already successful and vibrant institution on to a whole new level in terms of the breadth of education we offer, the excellence of our academic results and the profile of the college internationally.

“His vision for Concord has been the driving force behind the college’s growth from 250 to 600 students and the wonderful range of the facilities now on offer."

Concord head boy Louis Tang, 18, said Mr Hawkins was the embodiment of ‘zeal and kindness'.

Alumni Victor Ho, who studied at Concord from 2006-2010, added: “Mr Hawkins’ ability to inspire everyone, staff and students, to be the very best version of themselves, is unparalleled.

“Without him, I would never have made it to Cambridge and live the life I live now.”

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