Focus on Dai Preston

  • 15th February 2024

Dai Preston was born in Moriston, Swansea and grew up in the village of Burry Port in South Wales. Educated at Glan-Y-Mor School (a comprehensive secondary school) and Coleg Sir Gar (a further education college in Llanelli), he was the first in his family to study at university in Aberystwyth. Dai is married with a young son. He is head of Arnold Lodge School (ALS), a co-educational independent school in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. 

What have been your previous roles, including in other sectors?

Prior to teaching and during my university years, I worked in a wonderful Italian restaurant, as well as in a variety of roles for a large high street bank. After learning my craft as a teacher in Wales, I had the good fortune of being appointed to teach history and English at ALS in 2010. My school leadership experience is very much ‘home grown’ and I have fulfilled a number of roles at ALS from being head of department through to assistant head, deputy head, and head of the senior school, before becoming the headteacher in September 2016.

Alongside my role at ALS, I am an executive director with the Independent Schools’ Association and act as the area coordinator for the ISA Midlands region.

How many staff are there in your school?

ALS has around 110 staff with more than 455 pupils across ages four to 18.

What has been the biggest challenge in your job so far?

Since 2016, ALS has transitioned from having 164 pupils to 455 pupils currently and we will hit our maximum capacity of 485 over the next academic year. While our school mission, ethos and values and culture remained at the heart of our school success, the year-on-year growth meant that the school spent a few years with an evolving staffing structure requiring a constant cycle of recruitment and development. We are now very fortunate to have an exceptional staff team with subject experts covering a broad and diverse curriculum offering.

What will be the likely next big challenge?

ALS is the eminent all-through co-educational day school in Royal Leamington Spa. We have had a wonderfully successful few years – shortlisted for awards such as TES Senior School of the Year 2020 and Co-Educational Independent School of the Year 2023, and we now have waiting lists throughout the school. We have a truly happy, vibrant school where children excel academically and in their personal development.

The next challenge will be ensuring we don’t stand still or take success for granted. As soon as a school does this, it will begin to decline. Instead, we must seek to continue to develop and innovate so that we deliver exceptional standards for the school community we serve in all areas. As we look forward, our strategic focus and development will rest on the same three words that underpinned our success to date: quality, consistency and culture.

What is the most useful advice you have been given in life?

My grandpa once told me that “you get the job you’re doing”. While working in a factory, he had offered to help with some of the manager’s workload when the manager needed time away for his family. My grandpa did it without expectation of reward as, to him, it was a simple act of kindness to support his colleague. When the manager’s position eventually became available, grandpa was given the job because he was, in effect, already doing it. This was a huge promotion and came about because grandpa had acted with kindness in supporting his colleague and hard work.

Similarly, my stepfather, Garry, was a fantastic man in so many ways, but his single most defining trait was that he worked hard. He was dedicated and he stuck to his word. Though he was a skilled man – a fabricator welder – work was sometimes hard to come by, but he gave 100% to whatever job was placed in front of him to provide for his family. He taught me about hard work, commitment and integrity.

Collectively, these values of hard work, honesty and kindness that I learned growing up and had modelled for me have a wonderful synergy with the values of the community that I lead at ALS.

Who has been the biggest influence on you in your career? How?

The deputy head when I first joined Arnold Lodge, Mr Pollard, was a stalwart of the school. He completed well over 100 terms at ALS and he regularly taught the children of children who he had taught. From joining the school, I looked up to the example Mr Pollard set in school for pupils and staff, but as I began to work in a school leadership role, I learned a great deal from Mr Pollard, particularly due to his hard work, integrity and kindness.

What has been your lasting memory so far?
I’ve had the privilege of being both a teacher and school leader at ALS and so I have so many wonderful memories of the school, both in the classroom and outside it. Having led the school community through so much positive change and the challenges of Covid-19, having the quality of what we do reflected in our ISI Report from May 2023 was wonderful and that moment of elation/relief is perhaps my standout memory. 

What are your hobbies/outside interests?
My wife and I have a young son and so most of my interests outside school involve family adventures. We enjoy the odd National Trust visit, a Sunday morning trampoline park or the occasional toddler swim class. I did try and get him to watch some rugby with me during the World Cup but he said “no rugby, thank you, daddy – let’s play trains”. I think it’s pretty clear who’s in charge at home.  

What are your personal future plans?
I think that I have the best job in the world and I am privileged to have the chance to be part of such a wonderful school. I’m looking forward to my son starting Arnold Lodge and getting to continue to be part of the outstanding school community. ALS has recently taken ownership of Stratford Preparatory School and having oversight of the two sister schools is an exciting thing to be part of.

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