“Take risks, aim high, be prepared to fail and don’t settle.”
This is the advice from James Johnson as he settles into life as the new CEO and Headmaster at Taunton School.
Mr Johnson is focussed on encouraging pupils to excel in their own unique way and to enjoy the journey. He is inspired by Nelson Mandela’s assertion that: “There’s no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that’s less than the one you’re capable of.” This is the mantra he would like to instil in students as he starts his journey at Taunton School.
Mr Johnson grew up in a family of teachers but initially resisted following in these footsteps. After studying English at UCL, he delayed making any career decisions by completing an MPhil at Trinity College Dublin. That year he accepted that his passion really did lie in education after all.
He says: “The only thing stopping me from being a teacher was a stubborn determination to do something different from my father and brother, but then I realised that I was going to spite myself instead! It dawned on me that teaching was actually a career I’d really enjoy, so that’s when I applied for a PGCE at Cambridge.”
After completing his teaching qualification, Mr Johnson taught at Cheltenham College in Gloucestershire before moving to Tonbridge School in Kent, where he spent 11 years teaching English, running one of the boarding houses and coaching plenty of sport. From there he became Senior Deputy Head at Ardingly College and subsequently Head of the Senior School before securing his role as Headmaster and CEO at Taunton School.
“Unpretentious but aspirational”
Mr Johnson’s office is based in the school’s beautiful 19th century building, overlooking the green at the front of the school. As he settles into his new surroundings, he is able to reflect on what he’s learnt about Taunton School as he takes the helm.
He says: “There’s a sense of ambition about the place, as well as a sense of humility, which seems like a contradiction but those two things are really appealing. It’s unpretentious but also very aspirational and I really like that combination.
“Another attraction of Taunton School is the holistic approach to education and the fact that we celebrate success in a variety of different ways. What constitutes success for one pupil may be very different from another and the breadth of the co-curricular programme offers the chance for pupils of many different skills and interests to excel. In addition, the diversity of the pupil body, with over 53 different nationalities, is an extraordinary opportunity for our pupils to become global citizens.
“There’s an energy about Taunton School, a restlessness for improvement and everyone I’ve met is so enthusiastic about the future of the school – it’s all very exciting.
“I love the campus. It’s a dynamic fusion of beautiful, traditional buildings and some very contemporary areas such as the dining hall. This is reflective of the school’s ethos. As we celebrate our 175th anniversary, we are proud, in equal measure, of our history and our progressive outlook.”
As a boy, Mr Johnson describes himself as driven and focussed. He says: “I was exceptionally square. I just didn’t break any rules. Perhaps I’ll have my teenage rebellion in my mid 40s and 50s!”
After attending a state primary school in Abingdon, he moved to a large Prep school, then an all-boys independent senior school, also in Oxfordshire, where his father had taught for 15 years. “I loved my school days but boarding at an independent school in the early 1990s certainly wasn’t boarding as we know it in 2022. It wasn’t especially forgiving of difference, diversity and people who didn’t ‘fit the mould’. It could be quite insular and monastic and there was very little acceptance or tolerance. I remember my own school days very fondly, but I am so pleased that schools have become so much more progressive, accepting and outward looking.”
Moving to Somerset
Moving to Somerset has brought back many memories for Mr Johnson. It is where he and his wife met and then married in July 2002. With his parents in Devon and his wife’s parents in Somerset, the move to Taunton has been a very welcome one.
His two children have adapted seamlessly to life at Taunton Prep School and are enjoying seeing more of their extended family in the region.
Two things you didn’t know about Mr Johnson
- He’s a Type 1 diabetic and has a sensor fitted to his arm to continuously monitor his sugar levels and alert him via his phone if he needs glucose.
- He loves gothic literature and wrote his Masters dissertation on The Vampire Myth.
Quick fire questions
Describe yourself in three words
“Honest, fair and tidy.”
Are you going to be bringing in personal effects for your office?
“Probably, yes, but they’ll be very neatly laid out if I do!”
What will have pride of place?
“Some books from home. Gothic literature, various editions of Dracula perhaps.”
What music do you listen to?
“London Grammar, Bear’s Den, Matthew and the Atlas, Seth Lakeman – I’m a big fan of folk music and we listen a lot to the New Zealand duo Flight of The Conchords.”
What do you watch on TV?
“Stranger Things, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, Black Mirror, The Handmaid’s Tale, What We Do in the Shadows, Peaky Blinders, plenty of Louis Theroux documentaries.”
Where was your most memorable holiday?
“An island called Pangkor Laut which is just off the west coast of Malaysia for my honeymoon.”
How long have you been married?
“20 years this summer – July 27th 2002.”Categories: News Nursery Pre-Prep Preparatory Senior Sixth Form