Meet the Head
Originally from Bolton in Lancashire, Kris Spencer read Geography at the University of Hull where he went on to take his PGCE. He moved on to the University of Cincinnati where he taught undergraduates whilst studying for an MA. After the US, Kris won a scholarship to pursue postgraduate research at Jesus College Oxford.
Kris took up the role as Head of St James Prep in September 2020, bringing with him over thirty years of teaching experience, including his most recent role as Deputy Head (Academic) at Notting Hill Prep. Before that he worked at Westminster School, St Paul’s Girls’ School (Head of Geography), Abingdon School (Head of Geography/Day Housemaster) and Latymer Upper School, where he was Assistant Head for 11 years.
Kris is married with two children and lives in Chiswick, London. His wife, Julie, is Head of French at Notting Hill and Ealing High School.
What attracted you to St James Prep?
Every school has its own sense of place. The buzz of St James is particularly exciting and harmonious. I felt it as soon as I walked through gates – a combination of calm, of purpose and intent. There is a palpable sense of community with everyone pulling together for the greater good.
The ethos at St James is very important to me and special to the school. It is underpinned by the practise of regular moments of mindfulness we call ‘The Pause’. It is a mini-meditation which happens at the beginning and end of activities, and which makes us all feel good about what we’ve just done, and what we are about to do. This appreciation of stillness and the opportunity to connect to something beyond the pulls and pressures of the day is central to what we are as a school.
I am excited to be leading a school that has pioneered an approach to education which is supportive of academic excellence and wellbeing.
Describe the average pupil at St James Prep
We don’t deal with averages at St James Prep. Our measure is that pupils feel able to flourish here. This means an ability to embrace our community – learning, creativity, healthy and the spiritual. We foster and celebrate energy and involvement and the love of learning in all its elements. We do expect pupils to value what they do for intrinsic reasons rather than just shiny medals – although our pupils win plenty and we celebrate the effort that leads to their successes.
We have a broad intake at St James. This enriches the learning environment at school and means that the children see things from different viewpoints and have a diverse set of interests and talents.
The study of Sanskrit from an early age is very much ours. It is a beautiful language with much of the rigour of Greek but with far more musicality. Our pupils master it and as a result learn that difficulty is no barrier to progress, if the teaching is inspirational and they persevere. Kindness is also very important at St James. We have a wonderful buddy system in place with the older children and the youngest in the school, which means that everyone has somebody they can look up to and look out for.
What is your vision for the school?
Flourishing is a word I value. I use it to guide and measure what we do as a school. We want our community to flourish – our parents, our staff and, of course, our pupils. Using the word to guide teaching goes all the way back to Aristotle, and his concept of ‘Eudaimonia’ – often translated as human flourishing and fulfilment. More than just happiness, I take it to mean living life well – striving to do justice to our full human potential and working towards contributing to something beyond ourselves. In terms of the teaching and learning at St James Prep, this means creating a vibrant and nurturing environment where good things happen. It means that we have a curriculum that is rounded and full, and accessible. And, that our School is encouraging and our community dedicated.
What does being a Head mean to you?
As a leader, I want to support and encourage people to be their best. Leading St James Prep is a privilege and a responsibility that I take very seriously. But, it is also great fun to be around such talented pupils and staff.
When I think about being a Head and what it means to me, I think of two of my heroes who have shaped my outlook on education.
Martin Luther King, who said:
“We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.” Wise and powerful words, as I´m sure you´ll agree.
My other hero is Mr Jackson, who taught me History. His lessons were full of fun and I thought he was great. One time, I was fretting over my A-Levels. Mr Jackson, took me aside. He asked why I was so concerned. I said, “I need top grades”. He looked at me and he asked me why I wanted top grades. I couldn’t answer because surely the answer was obvious – the point of top grades was that they were top.
His eyes got a little sad and serious. His reply has stuck with me over the years.
He said: “Exam grades are simply keys that open doors. They’re useful, no doubt! And, like keys, you’d be in a rare old mess without them. But on their own they are not worth very much. It’s the doors they open and what’s behind those doors which is where their value truly lies.
And, the true value of education is in working out which doors you want to open. So don’t make exam grades the sole focus of your time at school. Think about who you are, and who you want to be and all of the doors you’ll open. And how you’ll weigh and sift what is valuable and important and what is not.”
And, he said, “if you meet people at a party or out and about who think the only measure of you is a piece of paper with a number or letter written on it then you’d be best placed to wish them good day, and move on until you meet someone with a bit more sense.”