An interview with John Watts

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This interview by Ted Vibert was first published in Jersey Topic magazine in 1966

Modern and challenging

The area in which the new school at Les Quennevais nestles is typical of the new mood of Jersey. It is modern and challenging. When you drive through the lines of new houses into the school car park you have a feeling that you are standing on the edge of great things.

I argued to myself that I felt this way because part of my schooldays were spent in cramped classrooms and corridors for classrooms, as well as being notable for a singular lack of teachers available to teach us.

We used to move from one building to the other — during the winter inevitably a wet experience. Today, the young people of Jersey are being given every opportunity and help to be better, to be modern, to be challenging.

And John Watts, the headmaster of Les Quennevais School, is determined that they will use every facility to advantage.

At 40 he is a young man for a headmaster. He sits in a neat and attractive office looking quite unlike the headmaster in the Giles cartoon. "Chalkie" is nothing like him.

And he has a fierce, at times passionate, conviction in what he is attempting to do in Jersey.

Briefly, his aim at this school is to turn out useful, well educated Jersey citizens. He wants to remove the slur on the "secondary modern" schoolboy — the feeling that anyone who hasn't passed an eleven-plus examination is a failure.

He wants his pupils to learn to live at the pace of 1966. He wants them to be aware of what is going on around them.

In this work he is fully backed by an Education Committee who, he says, "have fully supported our ideas out here to the hilt”.

Criticism

There was criticism when the school first opened that it was over-furnished. The local paper even criticised the fact that the school had typewriters. Was he perturbed by this criticism?

"Not at all. It was criticism out of ignorance wasn't it? After all, have you ever heard of a school with commercial subjects on the curriculum such as typewriting and shorthand not having typewriters. We were criticised because our cookery equipment was over-elaborate. Yes, we do have gas cookers and electric cookers in some quantities for our girls to learn on. But these have been provided by the companies concerned. In any case, good equipment in a school is necessary”.

He added that most people who criticised Les Quennevais School forgot that it is serving a joint function. Not only is it a secondary school for the west of Jersey, but it is also a community centre for adults. It is probably one of the most exciting adventures in education yet undertaken by the Education Committee.

John Watts applied for the job in Jersey because it combined these two elements. He was head of the English department of a school in Kent holding 2,000 pupils, and previously had worked closely in Cambridge with a village college — one of the first of its kind in England. When he arrived in Jersey two years ago, he quickly established contact with the various adult organisations in the west of the island and found out what sort of curriculum for adults could be worked upon.

Already over 25 adult classes are down on paper and being worked on. Most popular of these are the language courses.

"There seems to be an insatiable appetite for languages," he said.

He would like to have a proper language laboratory using all modern techniques.

He is a man who believes in using every educational technique available.

"There is no point in using methods that are old and slow when you have so much science at your finger tips," he says.

Great knowledge required

He is not frightened by the great knowledge required by young people before they go out into the world.

"There is nothing to be afraid of in the amount of technological information that children have to absorb today. I think most teachers find this stimulating."

What does concern him, and about which he is taking steps, is the lack of awareness among children in Jersey about what is going on around them. It would be wrong to imply that he is attempting to give children at his school a local political awareness. But he is trying to overcome the laissez faire attitude that exists.

"Children get this attitude from parents. People in Jersey are not aware of their civil rights, for instance. I want children from this school to have knowledge of these, to stand up for themselves, to challenge, to query. I expect this from them. I want them to be good adult citizens when they leave school."

His own education background is a strange one for a man so fully immersed in the land of comprehensive schools and this dynamic type of secondary education. He went to a private boarding school — which he calls a "system of isolation" — then went into the Army. After the war he went back to university to read for an arts degree.

He has five children—four boys aged 13, 9, 5 and 2 and a girl aged 11. His eldest son and daughter are being educated at Hautlieu and two of his boys are at St Peter’s School.

In his spare time - which he confesses is getting less and less — John Watts enjoys swimming and gardening. He also writes educational textbooks. This summer, once he has the timetable out of the way, he plans to learn to sail.

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