End of an era as Withernsea High School bids farewell to its longest-serving member of staff

Yesterday, Friday 17th July, marked the official end of the academic year. Under normal circumstances, end of term celebrations would have been in full swing and schools around the country would have been buzzing with excitement for the summer ahead.

However, the end of this term not only marked the end of what has undoubtedly been one of the most challenging and unusual years in the history of Withernsea High School, it also brought with it an understated end to an impressive 36 year association with the school for one of its most familiar and well-respected faces.

Deputy Headteacher, Bob Wardman, has taken early retirement from a career entirely dedicated to the Withernsea High School community.

Since arriving in September 1984, he has served the school in a variety of roles, gaining various responsibilities in the intervening years which ultimately paved the way to a position in the school’s leadership team.

Born and raised in Bradford, Bob attended Dudley Hill Junior School where, at the age of 11, he became one of the first students to secure a free scholarship at the prestigious Bradford Grammar School. It was while a student at both of these schools that Bob discovered a love for Rugby Union – a passion that has run concurrently with his career in education.

A natural affinity with people led him to embark on a degree in Theology at Manchester University and subsequently a career in teaching. He explained, ‘I’ve always been a people person and I enjoy the interaction that comes through making connections with new people. Entering teaching seemed to be a good idea, as the skills and ability needed to get on with people of all ages is a key part of the job that really appealed to me.’

The decision to train as a teacher brought Bob to East Yorkshire for the first time, where he completed his PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) at the University of Hull.

After coming a close second in a number of interviews at schools as far afield as Kent, Liverpool, Leicester and Newcastle, it was a job near the city where he trained that would finally give him his break in teaching. Bob commented, ‘Nationally, it was a really competitive field and I applied for numerous jobs which I narrowly lost out on. The job at Withernsea came out of the blue and despite living and studying in Hull for a year, I’d never even heard of the town before!’

Interviewed in July 1984 by Headteacher Glyn Williams for the role of Teacher of RE, Bob joined the school as the successful candidate that September. In 1989, he became Second in Charge of PSE, with responsibility for Spiritual, Moral and Health Education.

A sideways move to the role of Head of Year introduced him to the pastoral system. This was followed by promotions to Head of Key Stage (1994) and Director of Studies in Key Stage 3 (1996). In September 2000, he joined the management team as an Assistant Headteacher before securing the role of Deputy Headteacher in 2005 – a role he held for 15 years until retirement.

Working his way up from main scale teacher to senior management in the same school gave Bob a unique breadth of knowledge and experience that would be the envy of many fellow professionals.

‘During my time I’ve had a hand in many different aspects of the school from timetabling and curriculum, to student welfare, behaviour, admissions, Year 6 transition and GCSE options.’

So what has kept Bob at Withernsea High School for so long? The answer is simple: the community. Bob explained: ‘I love the school and the local area and I’m proud to have lived in the catchment all through my professional career. 99.9 percent of interactions with the community in that time have been positive and one of the greatest things for me has been the professional relationships forged in school that, over time, have evolved in to friendships in later life.

This has particularly been the case with the local rugby community, having taught a fair percentage of the players that have passed through Withernsea Rugby Club over the years, who I can now count as friends.’

Such was his commitment to the school, there was only ever one occasion where he felt he might leave. Bob recalls: ‘Martin Green [former Headteacher], taught me a lot about management in a very human way. The only external job opportunity I ever considered in my years at Withernsea was when Martin left to take up the headship at Driffield School and I seriously thought about following, such was the respect I had for him.’

But the move wasn’t to be and Bob continued at Withernsea, becoming Deputy Headteacher shortly after.

When asked about the proudest moments at the school, his answers are many and varied: from receiving recognition from East Riding of Yorkshire Council for the integral part he played in helping to keep vulnerable children in education, to working hard to get a vocational learning centre (now the Holderness Learning Centre) located in Withernsea as a hub for bespoke learning.

A former leader of the school’s PTFA committee, Bob also helped raise thousands of pounds to set up the ‘Successmaker’ computer suite – an online learning facility that was the forerunner of the many digital platforms that have enabled learning to continue during the recent lockdown.

But perhaps the greatest source of pride was seeing his two children go through the school and on to successful careers. He said: ‘I’m really proud that my children, Sophie and Dan, attended the school and have both gone on to get good jobs in careers that they enjoy. I’m also proud that they both share my love of rugby, even though they’re not quite as good as me!

My family have been a great support over the years and Mandy, my wife, has always encouraged me to strive to achieve as much as I could.’

Reflecting on some of his favourite memories at the school, he picks out running numerous football, cricket and rugby teams over the years as particular highlights. As rugby matches became harder to arrange with other schools, he took a Union team up to Withernsea Rugby Club – a move which inspired many of those players to join the club as adults.

The legendary end-of-year Mufti Day assemblies are another highlight which he says typified the fun elements of the school and the enthusiasm of staff and students alike, as did the School Camps that he co-led in the 1980s. He credits these as ‘some of the best, most fun things that I’ve ever been involved with’.

‘Each year, we took a group of Third Year (Year 9) students away for a week in Farndale, North Yorkshire. It gave students a chance for adventure where they experienced living outdoors, sleeping in bivvy bags and even digging their own toilets! They also took part in team-building activities such as rock climbing and canoeing. It was a great experience for everyone involved.’

Returning to the theme of community, another fond memory was the school’s 60th Anniversary open day which reunited many former colleagues and students for a reunion, the scale of which had never been seen before. It was an event that helped to sum up his feelings about the school community as a whole.

‘I’ve been very proud to teach the children and, in some cases, the grandchildren of former students which has maintained a continuity with the past. I often meet people with whom I enjoy a good reminisce about the old days and it’s great to hear how their time at school helped to shape their futures.’  

When asked what he will miss most about the school, the qualities that led him to the teaching profession in the first place are still top of the list.

‘Teaching and building successful relationships with staff and students are the things I will definitely miss. I still enjoy teaching and creating a rapport in the classroom, with an ethos of enjoyment for all students.

I’ll miss the working relationship with staff, in particular the many members of support staff who I have worked closely with in my latter years at the school. A large number of these colleagues are people who I actually taught and to see how they’ve come on as people, having been through the school and ending up on the “other side” as friends, has been great.’

So what does retirement have in store for him? While Bob aims to have a well-deserved break in the short term, he hasn’t ruled out a return to work in education in some capacity in the future. He is also looking forward to devoting more time to his passion of rugby.

As the current Coach and Fixtures Secretary, his 35 year association with Withernsea Rugby Club looks set to continue and is on track to eclipse the length of his continuous teaching career.

From pitch to playground, Bob’s career is proof that good people skills will serve you well in life.


Everyone at Withernsea High School sends their warmest congratulations and best wishes to him for a long and happy retirement.

 

 
ABOVE: Bob, with wife Mandy and their children Sophie and Dan, on his final day. 

 
ABOVE: Bob's socially-distanced leaving speech took place at the front of the school.


ABOVE: Many funny stories were shared from the past 36 years.


ABOVE:
Bob poses in front of the old 'C Block' during its demolition in 2016.


ABOVE:
The school's 60th Anniversary Open Day took place on Saturday 4th July 2015. It reunited over 3,000 former staff and students for the biggest reunion in the school's history. Pictured with Bob are fellow Withernsea High School teaching legends, Dave Jennison and Gordon Beastall.


ABOVE:
Hard at work on a school camp in the 1980s. Unconfirmed reports suggest that this is where he lost his hair!


ABOVE:
The school's famous Mufti Day assemblies were always a highlight of the year.