2024 Spring Term


  • The Greatest Job in Education
    As Geoff Barton bids farewell, he reflects on his seven years as General Secretary, thanking members for their support for what he says has been the greatest job in education - serving you. More
  • The Next Chapter
    ASCL General Secretary Designate Pepe Di'Iasio is immensely proud to represent members across the UK and in all sectors of education. Here he sets out his plans for the future of the association. More
  • A lasting legacy
    As ASCL's oldest and one of its longest-standing members, 94 year-old past president Geoff Goodall's encounter with an interviewer set him on a path that would see him at the forefront of education reform, and a career that spanned over five decades. Here, he talks to Dorothy Lepkowska. More
  • ASCL Women Trailblazers
    Chair of ASCL's Women Leaders' Network Becky Arnold reflects on the inspirational and vital role women have played throughout ASCL's 150-year history. More
  • Perfect Match
    Proud ASCL member and Senior Deputy Headteacher Helen Wakefield takes readers through her own changing relationship with trade unions. More
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A lasting legacy

As ASCL’s oldest and one of its longest-standing members, 94 year-old past president Geoff Goodall’s encounter with an interviewer set him on a path that would see him at the forefront of education reform, and a career that spanned over five decades. Here, he talks to Dorothy Lepkowska.

When Geoff Goodall was turned down for a job at the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (modern day BP), he asked the interviewer why he’d been overlooked. 

“He told me I hadn’t done anything wrong; he just didn’t think I was hard enough for the oil industry,” Geoff explained. “I asked him what he thought I was fit for, and he said: ‘I think you’d make a good teacher.’ ‘But it’s so poorly paid,’ I responded. He told me to try the independent sector where I might get accommodation with the job, and that would solve my problems.” 

It was 1954, and Geoff was in his fourth year at Corpus Christi College, studying French and German, and already married to Marion, whom he met at church and who lived nearby. But he heeded the advice and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, at the age of 94, Geoff is ASCL’s oldest, and one of its longest-standing, members, and a former president, having had a distinguished career in every conceivable type of school and been at the forefront of countless reforms to the education system. 

Geoff, a former evacuee, was born in Forest Hill, London, and attended a local primary when war broke out. He was moved five times during the war from London to Kent, south Wales, Norfolk, Surrey, Devon and back again. 

An intelligent boy, Geoff passed the 11+ and attended Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham grammar school in London before going to Oxford, and then secured his first teaching job back at his old school. “I had taken the interviewer’s advice and applied for some high-powered public schools as a modern foreign languages teacher, but I didn’t get the jobs. 

“Then a letter arrived from my former headteacher at Haberdashers’ Aske’s saying there was an opening for a French teacher and I should apply. I had no teaching qualification or training and there was no accommodation with the job, but we rented a room nearby.” He stayed for four years until a baby and another on the way forced him to look elsewhere. 

He was offered a job at Uppingham School, Rutland, which came with accommodation, and was promoted to head of language within two years, overseeing a team of 12. By now, he was climbing the professional ladder and after six years at the school, decided to review his options as he was on course for a house master’s role, which would have meant a commitment of up to ten years at the school. 

“Those six years were among the happiest of my working life, but we also had our sons’ education to consider because there was nowhere locally for young children to go, which meant placing them in a boarding school,” Geoff said. 

Instrumental education reformer 

He spotted an advert in The TES for the headship of Lord Williams’s Grammar School, in Thame, Oxfordshire – a state boarding school. “At one stage we had 100 boarders and Marion had to look after the domestic side, as we couldn’t get staff. It was like running a hotel. I believe she had a harder time than I did.” It was 1964, and Geoff was about to become instrumental in the biggest education reform for decades. It was also the year he joined what was then the Headmasters’ Association (HMA). 

“I was head of Lord Williams’s for seven years, when the local authority in Oxfordshire decided to begin reforming to a comprehensive system,” Geoff said. “It was a challenge to transform an ancient grammar school into a comprehensive.” 

Geoff was given the task of overseeing the transformation of secondary education in the Thame area of Oxfordshire by recruiting new teachers, adding new buildings to accommodate additional pupils and going co-ed, and closing the secondary moderns. 

“I got a lot of help from the local authority, which really believed in the comprehensive ideal, and were prepared to build and do what was needed. Lord Williams’s was a building site for years. 

“When I arrived, we had 206 grammar boys. By the time I left in 1979, we had 2,400 with 137 staff. The School had become a popular comprehensive.” 

What did a former grammar schoolboy and independent school head think of the reforms? 

“I was all in favour,” Geoff said. “Harold Wilson, himself a grammar schoolboy, pushed the policy and met with a lot of hostility. But he wanted the comprehensives to be every bit as good as the grammars, and so some of them were proved to be. 

“But the years of transition were exhausting. After 15 years in the same school, and at the age of 49, I did not want to become an old Mr Chips.” 

Geoff relieved Marion of being “head cook and bottle washer” at Lord Williams’s by securing the headship of Exeter School, an independent boarding school with a few boarders. It was during his time there that he was president of the then Secondary Heads Association (SHA), in 1982. It was to be his last headship, and he left the school in 1992. Until his full retirement in 2001, he worked for what was then called the Headmasters’ Conference (HMC), training new school leaders, and he helped to set up the Independent Schools Inspectorate. 

The challenges of then and now 

Today, Geoff and Marion live in Cumnor, near Oxford and have four children, nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. 

“I have certainly seen some changes,” he said. “During my time in education we dealt with striking teachers for the first time, had the upheaval of the implementation of the comprehensive system and had two increases in the school leaving age. 

“There were teacher shortages just as there are now, and I have always believed you cannot have a successful comprehensive system without good teachers. We now also have senior leadership teams with assistant and deputy heads, which didn’t really exist in my early years. 

“Today, schools grapple with many new challenges, such as the advances in technology, less funding and the philosophical glorification of the individual. Society is much less integrated now. 

“But the one thing that never changes is that you have, somehow, to find something in every child – especially the most reluctant ones – that makes them want to go to school, whether it be art, or sport or being with other children. 

“We have to help every one of them to succeed, whatever their ability or background.”  

Dorothy Lepkowska
Freelance Education Writer

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