An Interview with Dr Gary Savage
Headmaster of Alleyn’s School
by Brian Green

Gary Savage’s youthful looks belie a lengthy career in education.  He grew up in Suffolk and attended Bungay High School, a comprehensive, and of similar size to Alleyn’s.  After gaining a place at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge to read History, where he gained a double First, he continued his studies there into the politics of the French revolutionary government and gained his PhD.   In the course of this study he read an advertisement to teach history at Eton and he applied successfully for this post becoming Head of History and then Master- in- College, house master to the seventy King’s Scholars.  At Eton he was a colleague of Dr Joseph Spence, now Master of Dulwich College. From Eton, Gary Savage moved to Westminster where for four years he was Under Master or Senior Deputy Head.

Now firmly settled at Alleyn’s, he sees it as his remit to maintain the ethos of the school and stresses the happy, solid and successful state in which he inherited the headship of the school and praises his predecessors, Colin Diggory, Colin Niven and Derek Fenner for their dedication in raising the profile of Alleyn’s still further after the end of its Direct Grant status and its embarkation upon independence and co-education.  He places particular emphasis on the non-examined academic aspects of the syllabus and is keen that after-school and lunchtime activities are encouraged.  He has invited lots of guest speakers to the school and has initiated the award of an annual prize (complete with a viva) for a Governors’ Research project for Year 12 pupils to complete over the summer.  He wants to make all pupils better learners.  This last objective will, he hopes, be made easier by the addition of what he terms an ‘Enrichment Programme’ to the Key Stage 3 curriculum: a general course to awaken curiosity and embed better, more self-conscious learning. He is also keen to keep his finger firmly on the pulse of the school and to that end teaches a course on his own area of research, the French Revolution in the 6th Form.  Perhaps more challengingly, he is also to teach history to year 7, an age group he has not taught before.

Traditionalists at the school may rest rather more easy to learn that Dr Savage is not proposing to introduce the International Baccalaureate which he does not think is the best fit for Alleyn’s with its wide curriculum and rich co-curriculum. Nor is he setting out to improve the school’s already highly creditable exam league position; rather, he expects the enrichment and other changes to have an impact in this regard over time. Among some significant curriculum changes he would like to see the introduction of Art History as an A Level course and the introduction of perhaps  Mandarin and Arabic to the languages on offer.  He is very keen that the 300 strong 6th Form has ample options from which to choose and emphasises that these new subjects will not be delivered as a result of economies made elsewhere in the curriculum.  Classics therefore remain safe at Alleyn’s, where no fewer than ten pupils are currently  learning Ancient Greek.  A wide curriculum choice can be achieved, he says, because the modern  language department staff are each able to teach two languages.

He is wary of the present trend for successful independent schools to sponsor academies in the public education sector.  Instead, he suggests greater co-operation between local state and independent schools and ways in which this can be achieved are by inviting such schools to share 6th form minority subject study and be invited to talks given by distinguished guest speakers.  In addition, Alleyn’s, he says, already participates in the Southwark Schools Learning Partnership and he has begun a new partnership with Sydenham and Forest Hill Sixth Form.  He would welcome other community projects.  As far as the concept of ‘planting’ schools in developing countries he would rather see some kind of partnership develop with schools in countries like Zimbabwe, India and China.  Indeed, Alleyn’s is already developing through its Chaplain, Anthony Buckley, a relationship (and a pen-pal scheme)  with a group of schools in Zimbabwe.

Despite the adverse economic climate Dr Savage is convinced of the need to update some of the School’s older buildings.  He considers a new dining complex with basement storage and a new Lower School (both to replace the now inadequate buildings erected in the 1960’s) as fairly urgent.  He would also like to see the swimming pool refurbished and develop the school’s original gym into an additional Sixth Form Study Centre. A new art studio for the Junior School has already been created. With such a large 6th Form there is also, he feels, a need for greater library and archive space to be filled, he emphasises, with real books, not digital book readers!

To commemorate the 125th anniversary of Alleyn’s move from The Old College in Dulwich Village to its present buildings in Townley Road, the School is to stage a Victorian Day on October 12th.  The present- day pupils will experience Victorian school day, lunch will be drawn from a Victorian menu and to round off the day there will be an Old Time Music Hall performed in the School’s Great Hall.

The event will also highlight the launch of a new development project – “Advancing Alleyn’s”.  This project seeks to raise funds for additional means-tested bursaries and assist in financing the rebuilding plans.

The Felled North Dulwich Plane Tree

In the last edition of the Journal the actions of Southwark Diocese were called in to question over the felling of an apparently healthy and 200 year old London Plane and the unsightly hoarding in front of St Faith’s Church boarded up vicarage.  We are pleased to learn from Dulwich Society member Jeff Segal more about the fate of this magnificent tree:
This column had an interesting piece on St Faith’s in the Summer 2012 Journal. It was quite right about the hoarding around the site being a major eyesore, of course, but I wanted to add a little information to his comments on the London plane that stood in the front garden until early 2010.

I first noticed that the tree had been felled when I was cycling past the vicarage one day in March that year. I’m a cabinetmaker living in Herne Hill and I know that London plane is a rare and beautiful timber, highly valued for the decorative flecks known as ‘lacewood’. I could see that the contractors had already begun to chainsaw the log into small pieces for carting away – either for chipping or for firewood – which would have been a terrible waste. I immediately talked to the vicar at the time, Hugh Dawes, and he got in touch with the diocese and managed to get the work stopped straight away. He told me that the original decision by the diocese  to take down the tree was made on the grounds of safety.

As far as I’m aware, the 200-year-old tree had been taken down because of rot (particularly at the base), not because its roots were damaging the house,( I’m not a tree surgeon but when we milled it there were certainly substantial areas of rot in the trunk and in the stump, and some of the boards that we sawed simply fell apart)  but the bulk of the log was unaffected and Hugh was very keen on finding a use for the wood. After a few weeks working closely with him I’d arranged for a portable sawmill to come on site for a couple of days and, with the help of my friend and near-neighbour Angus Hanton, found a place to store and dry the boards. Two years later the timber – about two tonnes by weight – is in great condition and looks superb. It’s just waiting now to be turned into beautiful furniture.

Jeff Segal

Local Police Changes

Following budget cuts, the Metropolitan Police are introducing further major changes to local
policing. They are likely to be introduced in October/November this year, after the Olympics.

All the Dulwich wards will now have a ‘Neighbourhood Police Team’ (NPT) which will replace
the current ‘Safer Neighbourhood Team’ (SNT). From the three Dulwich Wards’ point of view
it could be considered to be an improvement: it brings more areas of police work under local
management, and Village Ward and East Dulwich Ward teams will return to having their own
sergeant (since the last reorganisation in mid-2011, Village Ward has had to shared with East
Dulwich Ward). College Ward had retained its own sergeant because of its size.

The down side is that the three Dulwich wards will join the three Camberwell wards in a ‘cluster’
and that will give the police the option of calling on staff from all the wards in cases of a serious incident in any of the six wards. The concern is that the crime profile in Dulwich is very different
from that in Camberwell and that we might regularly lose some of our compliment to help out in wards in the central part of the borough.

It is not clear where the local team would be located, currently they are at East Dulwich Police station, but this is due to close. The Safer Neighbourhood Panels, and local councillors, are keen that the police continue to be based in East Dulwich and do not move to Camberwell and Peckham.