The Island’s longest-serving primary headteacher is to retire next summer, but he won’t be putting education behind him.
Learning Portuguese and taking up a new musical instrument are among the challenges Nigel Bennett will set himself when his 37-year teaching career comes to an end in July.
Mr Bennett has headed St John’s Primary School since 1991 and oversaw the move to the present building – which Her Majesty the Queen visited – in 2003.
He qualified at Bingley College, Leeds University, in 1977 and initially worked as a supply teacher across all age ranges. He started teaching full time at Parkwood Junior School in Keighley, West Yorkshire. He met his future wife, Jill, a Manxwoman, at this time and moved to the Isle of Man to get married.
Mr Bennett’s first local appointment was at Fairfield Junior School in 1979. Four years later he was promoted to head of PE at Peel Clothworkers’ School. After an enjoyable three years there, he gained promotion to the deputy headship at Jurby Community School in 1987.
He will start his 24 year at St John’s after Christmas.
‘St John’s is a place that gets into your blood and I enjoyed it so much I have never moved,’ he said. ‘I had the chance to be part of the design team for the new school, holding the budget for all resources and being able to choose colour schemes, furniture etc. It proved to be the opportunity of a lifetime and one not many heads get the chance to experience. The decision to stay at St John’s is one I have never regretted.’
Mr Bennett said his happy memories of the school were too numerous to list but he said:
‘The main high point for me has been the people I have worked with at St John’s: the terrific staff and great children. The support I have received from parents and the community has been wonderful. It has been a real privilege to have worked here. The Isle of Man is the best place to be a headteacher as you are able to implement your own vision and beliefs.’
Jill Bennett, a teacher at Sulby Primary, is also retiring next year and the couple plan to travel.
They have a son, James, who lives in Rio, and Mr Bennett hopes learning Portuguese will help him converse with future grandchildren. The couple also have daughters Bryony, who lives and works in the UK, and Aalish, who is travelling round South East Asia.
Mr Bennett also intends to return to regular golf, get back into painting (he trained as an art teacher) and see more of the football team he supports, Leicester City.
He’ll continue as a validator for Investing in Children, a scheme that has so far accredited nine local schools for listening to pupils’ views.
Martin Barrow, Director of Education and Children, said:
‘Mr Bennett has been a popular and energetic headteacher who, for more than half his career, has led the development of St John's School from a small village primary school into a full one-form entry school of more than 180 pupils based in an attractive, modern building.
Throughout that time, Mr Bennett has provided the school with a clear sense of purpose and vision, integral to which has been the involvement of the pupils in decision-making as well as close partnerships with parents and the local community.
Beyond school, Mr Bennett has been involved in many DEC initiatives and in particular has been a driving force behind schools moving forward to gain Investing in Children accreditation.
I know he’ll be greatly missed by everyone at the school and also by the wider education community. I am sure everyone who knows Mr Bennett would want to join with the Department in wishing him a long, healthy and happy retirement.’
The headship of the 187-pupil school will be advertised shortly.