Until last year, Will Turner had only ever visited the Isle of Wight to play in a few cricket fixtures, with the MCC. The Island struck him as a ‘lovely place’ – but he never guessed that, a few years later, he would be calling it home. Will  – formerly Head of the United World College in Trieste, Italy – was appointed Head of Ryde School last September and is delighted to be part of a developing new chapter at the “Island school with a global outlook”.

A curiosity for other countries, customs and languages seem to have taken root from very early on in Will Turner’s life.  When he was five, his family moved from Cambridge to Istanbul for three years with his father’s job in the soft drinks industry, and later on they travelled to see dad in Vienna and New York.

“It certainly gave me a taste for other cultures” says Will, “and probably sparked my interest in modern languages too”.

Hardly surprising then, that when it came to university, he opted to study French and Italian, and part of his Degree course at Exeter included a year studying at the Università degli Studi di Pisa.

Finding a career path

But perhaps less surprising was that initially, Will had no real strong idea of his career path, and only took a friend’s advice to teach “for a year” while he decided.

However, that year became two, and then three, as he discovered his passion right there at Sherborne School in Dorset, not only teaching languages but becoming an all-rounder and getting involved in music, drama and sport. 

From there he went to Harrow School, as an Assistant House Master, Head of Universities and Head of Modern Languages, and in 2016, to the co-educational  St John’s School, Leatherhead as Deputy Head (Academic), before taking on the overseas challenge as Head of UWC Adriatic in Italy in 2019.

Discovering talents

Helping pupils to identify and develop their own unique talents and passions is very much part of the ethos at Ryde School, and it’s one of the reasons why, Will says, he was so drawn to the post of Head.

“My own path has been one of discovery and exploring wider horizons, and one of the strengths of Ryde School is that it opens many different pathways to pupils.

“Yes exam results are important, and as a school we get good results, but they’re not the be-all and end-all. Not everyone wants to go into academia. Ryde’s focus is a rounded education that builds confidence, skills for life, and happy, lifelong friendships”

It was after becoming first-time parents themselves that Will and his wife Annabel began looking for a move back to the UK from Italy to be closer to family, and the Ryde job proved a perfect fit.

They arrived with daughter Stella last August – “just in time for A-level results” he says, but also to enjoy a lovely late summer on the Island and start exploring their new surroundings. 

“The Island is such a green and beautiful part of the country and we’re getting to know it better and better, enjoying beach walks and days out at Carisbrooke Castle, the Donkey Sanctuary, Monkey Haven … there are just so many things for young children.  And of course our families have been very keen to visit!”

Down to business

One of Will’s major tasks since taking on the Headship has been to establish a clear set of core values for pupils, parents and the community, which will be unveiled in September.  These have been developed in discussion with staff, sixth formers  and governors, and are likely to include ways of building stronger links with the local community.

Will, who was impressed by the well-developed social and community service network in Italy, is keen to develop similar links between Ryde School and its neighbours, to reflect the school’s motto of ‘Ut Prosim’ or ‘to be of service’.

“The concept of being of service to others is important to me” he says.  “We will be looking at ways in which the school can serve the wider community in partnership with local services and charities.”

“Now that we live in such a fast-paced world with people constantly moving about, it’s even more important to recognise the town, the  community or village we live in, and contribute while we are there, even if for a short period of time”

Growing numbers of boarders

Another area of focus for the new Head is on developing the school’s growing provision for boarders, following the addition of two new boarding houses with a capacity for 80 live-in pupils. 

“We want to grow the boarding side, but will keep it to a defined percentage, because we’re still very much an Island school” he says.

Indeed, many of the school’s current pupils are the children of ‘old boys and girls’, some of whom  have lived on the Island or just across the Solent for many years, and come from a whole range of working backgrounds.

Local pupils benefit from the different perspectives brought by students from further afield, including children of Armed Forces personnel and pupils from overseas.

One big family

The ‘big family’ feeling at the school is enhanced further by the wide age range of students – from two year-olds based in the stand-alone nursery building, up to 18 year-old sixth formers.

Will’s three year-old daughter Stella has already taken her place in the nursery, at the start of her own journey of discovery.  Like her fellow pupils, she’ll be encouraged to find her own path, whether that be academic, artistic or practical.

“The strength here is that we offer many different pathways from the age of 16-plus, and became the first school in the country to offer a three-fold choice of A-levels, or the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma or Career-related programmes”.

Vocational courses aimed at the world of work are valued equally with traditional academic exams.

Will reflects on the huge difference in teaching now from the outdated “chalk and talk” approach so prevalent in his school classrooms of the late 1990s, with pupils expected to sit quietly and listen.

“Our teaching is much more interactive – and so much the better for it” he says.  “It’s a commitment to educating the whole child”.