Top college principal announces departure
08 Jun 2021
by Cathy Block

A man who has been described as an educational visionary, inspirational teacher and creative leader, has announced his departure from one of the country’s top-performing boarding schools.

Neil Hawkins, 55, who has been principal of Concord College, Shropshire, since 2005, is to relinquish the post from the beginning of September.

And today the chairman of Concord College Trustees, Dr Iain Bride, said that under Neil Hawkins’ ‘dynamic leadership’ the academic success of the school was unprecedented. “He has introduced a rigorous approach to all aspects of teaching and staff development with great success. But perhaps a greater contribution has been the change he has brought about in the pastoral care of the students.” 

During his 16 year tenure at Acton Burnell-based Concord, the college has consistently become one of the top five performing boarding schools in the UK, achieving consistently high school league table positions for A level and GCSE. Educated at Brentwood School and Cambridge University, where he studied history, he has developed an extensive knowledge of the UK education system in a career spanning 30 years. Prior to his appointment at Concord College, he has occupied positions of significant responsibility at The Leys (director of studies), Sevenoaks (head of history) and Cranleigh (head of history and assistant housemaster).

Said Mr Hawkins, MA Hons Cantab: “I became instantly aware on my interview day that I would be totally happy at Concord if I was fortunate enough to be appointed its principal. I have been completely enriched by the experience. I feel I have become a better human being for having experienced life at Concord. Having experienced many changes in the pandemic, what is important in life is trying to make the most of it and being a better person for others. It has been an utter privilege to have been Concord’s principal.” 

He said the college was completely focused on three key elements: rigour, kindness and creativity. “I love the way the staff have supported the goal that we expect to achieve high standards of behaviour. Rigour, kindness and creativity underpin everything we now do here and for me, it has been a journey towards that. It is very clear.”

During his tenure, the number of students at Concord has risen from 250 to 600 and staff numbers have trebled in size to over 350. In addition, the campus has doubled in size and its facilities have been developed and improved immeasurably – the college’s investment in the education of young people.

“The college is in a robust position,” said Mr Hawkins. “There has been more interest in the school in the last 16 months in terms of enquiries and at the same time more applications than at any time in Concord’s history, despite the pandemic, which is remarkable and a tribute to the team. The team has been truly amazing. We have a wonderful staff team on every level, academic and pastoral, around the college, and all the staff have played a significant part in the success that Concord has achieved.” he added.

In further tributes to Mr Hawkins, the college’s academic vice-principal Tom Lawrence said: “Neil Hawkins has taken an already successful and vibrant institution on to a whole new level in terms of the breadth of education we offer, the excellence of our academic results and the profile of the college internationally. His achievements were made possible by his own inimitable leadership style embracing warmth, compassion and an unerring sense of purpose. We all wish him well in his new role and we can be confident that he will continue to build the college’s profile across the world.”

Said head girl Hannah Kim, 18: “Mr Hawkins has been a principal who is caring and easy to approach. He actively spent time smiling and saying good morning to students who walked by Main Hall and always had time ready to listen to what the student body had to say. Mr Hawkins also sets aside time to listen to suggestions for the school and is happy to invite students into his office to talk, which helps clarify any plans and helps the students' voices to be heard. Concord College will miss Mr Hawkins, but we wish him all the best.”

Concord head boy Louis Tang, 18, said Mr Hawkins was the embodiment of ‘zeal and kindness.’ “ Throughout four years under his care, I have witnessed his sincerity in building a harmonious learning environment for the students. Unlike other educators who might focus on the rigid terms of discipline, Mr Hawkins puts his emphasis on the core values of Concordians and genuine kindness. Thank you for providing me with such a life-changing experience in Concord.”    

Alumni Victor Ho, who studied at Concord from 2006-2010, said: “Mr Hawkins never taught in any of my classes – he was the principal! Yet he taught me one of the most important lessons in life – and that is to strive for the best, never settle for less…be extraordinary. As a principal, your only job is to lead the team. And Mr Hawkins’ ability to inspire everyone, staff and students, to be the very best version of themselves, is unparalleled. I am very glad that he was the principal while I was in Concord. Without him, I would never have made it to Cambridge and live the life I live now.”