In 1970 pupil Gavin Hamilton-Deeley – along with four other boys – moved into the monastery for a week as part of an initiative for pupils to get an impression of monastic life. Earlier this summer, and 45 years on, the five returned for a reunion at the school. In this interview, Gavin talks about his own days here and why – a generation on – it is the right school for his son Harry’s schooling too.
Back in 1970, what was spending a week in the monastery as a teenager really like?
I spent my time as part of the first group of boys to experience monastic life, just before I left Worth in 1970. My immediate impressions were having to get up at about 6am to start the day; then going off to work hard in the forest; returning and eating in silence, and wearing a strange outfit – all of which was in stark contrast to the school life I was used to. After the week, the time for reflection and beginning to understand what the monks were experiencing started to kick in and I found the experience surprisingly rewarding.
Did the monks do all the teaching in your day?
There was a mix of monks and lay teachers, about half and half. Fr Stephen Ortiger taught me French and was my Housemaster for a time. Mr Andrew Bertie taught me Classics and later became the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta. Teachers at Worth were all caring and each had their own particular style; eclectic is probably the kindest way to describe them.
The inclusiveness of the Worth Community is a really important aspect of day-to-day life here – to what extent did it hold true in the 70s?
Worth was a very much a monastic community first and a school second in my day and as a young boy there seemed to be a lot of Catholicism and dogma to digest. I wanted to experience life in the monastery to see what really went on behind the scenes. What I came away with was the realisation that Catholic Benedictine life was not all about dogma but a way of life and that has stayed with me.
How has an education at a Benedictine school shaped you?
As far as my academic studies were concerned, well the raw material was very raw so it was a miracle that I came away with anything lasting, but it did fuel my interest in everything eclectic. The greatest legacy from Worth was an endless supply of confidence in myself, however misplaced, and a real sense of humility, so I have always been happy in anyone’s company from whatever background or social standing.
I left Worth when I was still 15 and went to work in the City. In those days the work was easy and professional exams not too difficult, so life was extremely relaxed and there was absolutely no pressure. I lived in London on my own and it was Christmas every day of the week. We could all learn a lot from those days, if only I could remember them better. I retired as one of the senior partners at Deloitte a few years ago having spent almost 25 years as a partner there and having had a wonderfully fulfilling and rewarding career working with clients in film, music, TV and other media businesses.
Any noticeable differences in school life today as you see your son educated here?
Worth is now co-educational and that makes the community more like the real world, rather than the somewhat cloistered existence at the time I was there. And the focus on academic studies is stronger.
In my day one was either sporty or nerdy, whereas now there is a better balance of academic learning, sport and community, pupils benefit from all three. I also notice how consistently achievement is recognised and applauded, and pupil morale is great – there is much more carrot and no stick, as there was far too frequently in my day (but I probably deserved it!).
Anything else about the school that strikes you as different?
Facilities are the most obvious improvement and are fantastic compared to my day. I remember spending my time in Nissan huts and technology was yet to be invented. Walking around the school today puts me in mind more of a university than a school.
Communication is the other most obvious evolution – or more like revolution. We were only allowed out periodically, had to write letters home to our parents on Sunday afternoons and there was a coin-operated telephone box if the need to communicate became urgent.
Now the communication between Worth, pupils and parents is exemplary and better than our experience of other schools. Parents really are included and their contribution valued. Pupils are treated as adults from day one, learn to understand their place in the community at large and their responsibilities to it, but still have the capacity to get up to mischief which is an essential part of growing up.
Why did you choose Worth for your son Harry?
We turned down offers from other schools because we wanted a co-educational environment and the pastoral care that is so strong at Worth. We were conscious that Worth’s academic record is not yet as strong as some schools, but the balanced education given to pupils impressed us more. The values instilled in pupils are what really matter and last long after academic results are forgotten.
Finally… any lasting thoughts as you drove away from the reunion lunch?
Worth has developed wonderfully since my time; if I had thought about what I missed or what I would like it to have become, then it would be pretty much what I see today. Worth is a fantastic advert for co-educational schooling in the modern world. It’s not all about competition and achievement; pupils benefit from time for reflection and the underlying Benedictine ethos and still have fun, so they get the best out of themselves and enjoy school.