Meet the Executive Principal

Westminster026Being Executive Principal of Harris Westminster Sixth Form is an enormous privilege both because of the vision with which I’ve been entrusted and because of the students I work with each day. Harris Westminster has been created to offer an outstanding academic education to students from all backgrounds and all neighbourhoods in London. The curriculum is built on that of Westminster school and emphasises the value of learning far above that of examinations: qualifications are not the motivation to study but are the inevitable result of scholarship.

I was educated at Silverdale Comprehensive School in Sheffield and then at Oxford and Harvard Universities. I found several things difficult about the transfer from school to university: the pomp of the buildings and the confidence of the other students was intimidating; the wealth of opportunity was not something I was used to; and, having done well at school, I was unused to finding study difficult and was therefore ill-equipped to work resolutely through a problem or to seek advice and support from other students.

I do not think that these experiences are unique and am delighted that students leaving Harris Westminster to go on to study at top universities in the UK and abroad will be better prepared than I was: their exposure to the centres of power and culture should inure them to the grandeur of the architecture and the apparent confidence of others; the weekly lectures from amazing guests and the breadth of the Cultural Perspectives courses will prepare them to look for and take opportunities for enrichment and inspiration; and the pitch of lessons and quality of peer group will ensure that they learn both to find things difficult and to seek help when they need it.

Harris Westminster is a community of scholars where students challenge and support each other. It is a place where intellectual rigour is prized and arguments are fought over but people are cherished, where we can disagree vigorously and still celebrate each other’s successes. It is a privilege to be part of this community, to have an opportunity and an excuse to learn with the students: to make my own knowledge more extensive and more exact; to be challenged critically to defend my own assertions and be scrupulous with my assumptions.

Since graduating from Harvard, I have taught in many schools in England, Wales and Australia and have taught many students of all abilities and backgrounds and I am determined that all young people should have the scholastic opportunities that are enjoyed by the most privileged. Harris Westminster students travel from all across London to study and come from all backgrounds: each of them brings their own intellect, experience and viewpoint and comes ready to learn from their peers as well as from their teachers. It’s very exciting and, if you are an ambitious London student, I hope that you might want to join us.

James Handscombe

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