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Blackburn leading the way

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St Peter’s Head of School Marcus Blackburn in his office. Photo: Mary Anne Gill.

A restructure of its admissions, international and marketing offices into one directorate will help maximise the potential of St Peter’s School, says its Head of School Marcus Blackburn.

He made the comment in response to rumours circulating in the community that the school was undertaking a series of redundancies. The News was contacted by several sources suggesting there were as many as 12-13 people involved.

Blackburn, who started at the Cambridge school earlier this year following the controversial resignation of his predecessor Dale Burden in May 2021 amid an investigation into bullying, denied the rumours.

“It is disappointing to hear (the gossip),” he said.

“The whole concept of getting rid of people is regrettable.”

Restructuring was happening in three departments – admissions, international and marketing – which currently operate out of two separate offices enrolling students into the school.

One is for overseas students and the other for day and boarding. Bringing marketing in would clarify what St Peter’s was all about, said Blackburn.

St Peter’s School, Cambridge

St Peter’s School, Cambridge

Staff numbers would go from 10 to seven, with deployment elsewhere in the school being actively pursued for “those staff who wish to remain members of the St Peter’s team.”

Recruitment is underway for the new role of Admissions and Marketing head, who will coordinate all three functions. The merger made sense and would provide a key operation and function for the school, he said.

“We expect there will be great collaboration across that team.”

Other staff resigning across the school and changes to the school’s sport academies probably led to the rumours.

“I feel as a leader I’m coming in to facilitate the things we need to do to maximise the potential of the school.”

Marcus Blackburn, St Peter’s School

The school is piloting a programme next year from years seven to 10 which would bring sport into the timetable as a double period every week, in addition to before and after school.

Sport is currently an elective subject with some students feeling they could not afford to do sport so they could preserve their academic options.

“I care about equity. I want our most experienced expert sports staff supporting students across the age levels and at all teams. If your sport only happens after school, those staff members have to choose which teams they work with.”

Blackburn, a former regional development officer for the Welsh Rugby Union and the Singapore national rugby sevens coach, worked under a similar successful system when he was at Scots College in Sydney from 2009-2015.

Performing arts is another area under review following the resignation of the current director of Performing Arts. The process around recruiting to that position had not started yet.

“I’m really confident in their (the staff) capacity to keep that engine going.

“I really value co-curricular activities at school,” he said, something which he developed during his time as Assistant Head (Co-curricular) at Hereford Cathedral School in the United Kingdom from 2015-2018.

Blackburn was deputy headmaster and Head of Senior School at St Peter’s College in Adelaide from 2020-2022 – a boys only Anglican boarding and day school of 1500 boys – before joining St Peter’s, which has a roll of 1200.

The first part of the year was one of getting to know the school and the community, speaking to people on sport sidelines, being at events and meeting with Year 13 learning groups to learn about their experience at St Peter’s.

“Culture is just integral. I made that real commitment to the community – whakawhanaungatanga, to get to know the people and the place and the rituals, the tikanga.

“Failing to do that would have been missing a real opportunity.”

He coached the St Peter’s under 15 girls’ rugby team and supported a basketball team.

Using his rugby sevens experience – he wrote a book 10 years ago called Coaching Rugby Sevens – he will take charge of the Hautapu club sevens team.

“I’ve come in as a leader. I do believe that schools require leaders that pay attention to school as a workplace and not just a place for young people to come to learn. I’m committed to do that. I am here to balance that support of our staff at the same time as trying to inspire their performance,” said Blackburn.

St Peter’s School, Cambridge.

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About Author

Mary Anne Gill

Putāruru-born Mary Anne Gill is one of Waikato’s most experienced communications and public relations practitioners. She has won several national writing gongs including three times at the Qantas and twice at the Voyager media awards.