It has been said that it is hard to know where the town ends and the school begins. One of the largest boarding schools in the country, Oundle School is also the town’s largest employer. There was a time when almost everyone in town seemed to be connected to someone who had business with or who worked at the school. While that is no longer the case, the school retains a central position within town, and of key importance is the person at the school’s helm, the headmaster.
After ten years leading Oundle School, Charles Bush will be stepping down as the school’s 33rd headmaster. His retirement comes after 40 years teaching in five different schools, including Abingdon School and Marlborough College, where he was a teacher of mathematics, head of department and housemaster.
His ambition to pursue a career in education was consolidated during his gap year before university, which he spent at The Dragon School, Oxford. It was at The Dragon that he met his wife, Mary, who was working as a matron. Even after his year there, Mr Bush remained ‘a proud supporter’ of The Dragon, later sending his three children there.
He did not set out to be a headmaster but comments, ‘I guess I was ambitious’. After twelve years as Headmaster at Eastbourne College, he joined Oundle School in 2005.
In taking on the leadership of a school of Oundle’s size, Mr Bush was fully aware of the inherent challenges. He said: ‘The size of the school is its greatest strength and, potentially, its greatest weakness. It’s terribly easy for the headmaster to be remote and out-of-touch. I hope I have achieved the aim of involving myself with everybody.’
In addition to attending plays, concerts, sport events and official dinners, he spends his evenings visiting all the houses, and is always seen greeting pupils as they come into the Chapel.
‘Every child is important and every child is equally important,’ he believes. He hopes that he will be remembered for nurturing ‘a happy and successful community’.
Certainly, throughout his time at Oundle the school has gone from strength to strength. His headship has overseen not only the final stages of the first SciTec development but also the renovation of the Cripps Library, the refurbishment of the English department and the relocation and refurbishment of the modern foreign languages department.
Construction of the second and final part of SciTec, which will encompass the engineering and mathematics departments, is currently underway. He also leaves plans for development of the school’s sports facilities, the beginning of which is heralded by the recent completion of the new cricket pavilion.
Perhaps of more significance though is the strength of the relationship between the school and the town. Looking back, he feels that there was ‘greater disconnection’ between the two communities when he arrived.
There has been great progress over the years, with much effort made to maintain good communication and cooperation with all the many groups in Oundle.
The link between the school and the town is most marked on Remembrance Day, when the school and town join in a common purpose, led by the school’s marching band. It was also recently highlighted by the ‘cooperation, unity and support’ that came together for both town and school when hosting the Women’s Cycle Tour. He said, ‘I think both town and school have felt very confident and proud at what has been achieved.’
A keen sportsman, he takes great pleasure in being the President of the town Cricket Club, while Mary is President of the Horticultural Society.
He describes the town as ‘the most wonderful place to live. People are friendly, people look you in the eye as you walk past, they say good morning, they’re cheery, the shops are generally prosperous and they’re very welcoming’.
As a resident in Oundle Mr Bush has enjoyed living at the heart of a small market town that has so much to offer. ‘I shall miss the fact that two doors down is the butchers, and if you want sausages for breakfast, you can go and buy some. I shall miss the fact that if I am hungry, The Ship is next door, the Talbot is over the road, and fish and chips is in the market place!’
‘It’s a real privilege,’ he said. ‘Moving on from Oundle will be difficult.’
As for what the future will bring, he seemed quite excited to be able to say, ‘I haven’t got plans’.
Although under no pressure to retire as headmaster, Mr Bush said that he ‘just felt 40 years was the right time to go’.
He added: ‘I’m leaving at a time when I still have lots of energy and enthusiasm for the things that I do, and I hope that will translate to other activities in future.’
He does not see the end of this phase as the end of his working life. ‘I expect that somebody will entice me to do something part-time!’
In addition, he looks forward to the next chapter of ‘a bit of sunshine and a bit of London’, with ‘plenty of bad golf’ as well.