Gregg Davies is celebrating a decade as Headteacher of Shiplake College and he tells Mark Kebble about changes made – and the ways they have remained resolutely the same

In this age of league tables and demands on examination results, talking to Gregg Davies is really rather refreshing. ‘I like someone to come to Shiplake with something to hang their hat on and say “I am quite good at that”,’ he smiles about their admissions policy. ‘I have got a wide mix of academic abilities here, but the pupils are genuinely considerate and courteous. A mantra I like to go by is that boys are like puppies: you need to feed them properly, exercise them and praise them, and boys will respond to these three things.’

That’s not to say, however, that this wonderful boarding school on the edge of the Thames is not succeeding academically. In fact, there has been an upward trend in GCSE and A-Level results over the last decade, which happens to coincide with Davies’ Headship. ‘The first thing that I needed to make sure I didn’t change was the ethos here, which is a really happy place,’ he looks back. ‘What I have done is made Shiplake more academically robust.’

Celebrating a decade of success at Shiplake College

Gregg Davies has seen plenty of success stories in his 10 years as Headteacher

If you visit Shiplake College – and on the day I speak to Davies, it’s the perfect weather to really appreciate the 45-acre site – happiness is indeed evident, but also something else shines through. ‘Tolerance,’ Davies says of the pupils at the independent boarding and day school (for boys aged 11 to 18, and girls from 16 to 18). ‘One thing I learnt as a boarder was to be tolerant of other people. The other thing is quality of care – we have been praised for our pastoral care and that comes back to the quality of our teachers. Our boarders have a number of people they can turn to. That could be the house master, resident tutor, matron, the chaplain, the older boys… We are not here to replace family life – but we are like an extended family.’

The feeling appears to be mutual. Talking about Shiplake’s teaching staff, Davies is quick to point out everyone who is involved in making the school what it is today and how the pupils appreciate them. ‘Pupils know the non-teaching staff,’ he says, ‘such as the Head Groundsman, Richard Evans. If there’s an issue with the cricket square they go to Richard. They understand that without him there would be no cricket and that he is such an important cog in the wheel here.’

Celebrating a decade of success at Shiplake College

Shiplake College offers a well rounded education, both in and out of the classroom

What about the kind of environment we would find in their classrooms? ‘It’s very much a team effort between the teacher and pupils, and also the pupils and pupils,’ Davies says. ‘We feel that boys are better if taught in a kinaesthetic way as they retain information if doing something. The classes are not quiet, with pupils just sitting there looking at a board. I want teachers to be right in the middle of a classroom.’

With a new school year approaching, Davies doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Their new John Turner Building – named after one of the first boys to attend Shiplake College, and who was also a governor of the school for over 30 years until his retirement in 2012 – will be operational for the Autumn Term, and will house the Art, Music and Learning Development departments, a recital/lecture space and a revolutionary digital resource centre. But the same thing will always be present: enjoyment of learning. ‘Did you enjoy school?’ Davies asks me, to which I answer not particularly. ‘I loved school and I want our pupils to say it was great here, and that they learnt lots and had fun. Some schools are all about exams, meaning pupils fail to benefit from the life experiences and skills associated with a diverse, rounded education. The confidence, eloquence and interpersonal skills developed are often equally important in later life.’

Shiplake College, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire RG9 4BW; 0118 940 2455; shiplake.org.uk