Gibraltar will welcome the opening of a new independent co-education senior school in September and the man chosen to lead Prior Park as Headmaster is Peter Watts, a 47 year old Welshman who comes to the Rock from his post as Deputy Head of Sherborne, the prestigious boys’ boarding school in Dorset.
One of four brothers, Peter was the only one not to join the forces and follow in the footsteps of his father who was in the Royal Marines. “I have visited Gibraltar twice before when my brother was stationed here in the mid-80s,” Peter says. Leaving university with a 1st in Physics, Peter went on to work as a research scientist. “I soon realised that I wanted to spend a bit more time with people rather than being stuck in a lab all day, so I went into teaching,” he states, carrying on to say that he realised that there was a job to be done in making physics more accessible in school, to both boys and girls. Going on to take up a position teaching physics at King Edward VI School, Peter then joined Sherborne where for the past 20 years he has served in both academic and pastoral roles. “I did pretty much every job under the sun at Sherborne until eventually I became Deputy Head, a job I did for four years and one which has given me lots of experience regarding all school issues and the outward facing side of leading a school,” he says. “One of my roles on the way up was House Master which meant that I was responsible for the welfare and academic attainment of up to 90 pupils,” Peter comments.
When the Gibraltar school reaches its full quota it will have 240 students. “This will be an advantage in terms of developing relationships, knowing the pupils and getting to know the parents really well.” The new school will be part of the Prior Park Foundation that comprises three schools in the UK ; Prior Park College – the founding school in Bath, the Paragon Junior School – also in Bath, and Prior Park Prep School in Cricklade, Wiltshire.
However, Peter is keen to point out that the new school in Gibraltar is not a franchise operation. “We are not going to be one of a number of schools set up by Prior Park all over the world, this is very much a one off but it will also be a distinct part of the Prior Park Foundation in that there will be elements that will identify it as such,” he states. This includes the uniform, the ethos of the school and the Catholic, Christian worship.
There are very strong links between Bath Prior Park College and Gibraltar, with a number of famous alumni within Gibraltar society having firstly been to Sacred Heart school, the site that Prior Park will occupy, and who then went on to board in the UK, one of those being the Chair of Governors Tony Bury. Peter explains that this is where the seed of the idea to form a school here came from: “About five years ago the Head of the College came to visit alumni in Gibraltar and it was about the same time that a group of local parents were starting to formulate plans and working with the Government to set up a senior school.” Another connection is that Sacred Heart was previously run by the Christian Brothers; the same organisation that used to run Prior Park College.
Peter is hugely excited about the challenge of starting a school from scratch. Initially, there was some opposition to the idea of setting up an independent senior school within the local community from people who thought that it was going to be an elitist English pubic school, but Peter counters that by saying that he hopes Prior Park will be judged on as much as what they contribute to the community as well as on how they perform academically. “The Prior Park Foundation is a Catholic Christian community with an outward -looking ethos where part of the mission of service is for every child to be engaged with community projects, raising money and raising awareness for issues not only within Gibraltar but outside as well,” Peter explains. “We will not be competing with the other schools,” he says, continuing “and I think it is a really good thing for Gibraltar to bring in a different senior school that introduces an element of choice and an alternative route to Bayside or Westside or, for some parents, from sending their children back to the UK.”
Work on the old Sacred Heart building has commenced but Peter stresses that in the first instance no substantive changes will take place to the outside. “It is a beautiful building and although it needs some care and attention to comply with current Health and Safety Legislation, the greatest changes will be in terms of the classrooms inside and these will look very different to how they were when they we last used in July 2015.” One of the benefits of being part of a group of schools is that it will enable the sharing of teaching and learning initiatives, part of which will encompass the use of technology in the form of virtual classrooms.
Peter elucidates: “We could have a debate in real time between children in Bath and children in Gibraltar on, for example, immigration, and we can also give children here the opportunity to learn things like Latin or Greek even though we don’t have the facilities or teachers.” Despite whatever else is happening in other parts of Europe, Peter has noticed from his short time in Gibraltar that people with different beliefs and religions live side by side and thrive together. Looking to the future, his vision would be to have an interfaith conference at the school, maybe in five or ten years’ time “where children could celebrate what they have in common as opposed to the minor differences in terms of how they celebrate their faith.” Registration for the school is going well. “We have had over 100 registrations already with some children being registered for as late as 2025,” Peter says. “They are getting their names down early proving that there is a confidence within some parts of the parental body in Gibraltar that this school is going to fly and that they want to get their children down as soon as they can.” The plan is that in 3 years’ time the school will comprise 240 boys and girls, with 30 teaching staff and 10 support staff. “We are going to be building towards that from a base of about 60 – 80 children entering Years 8, 9 and 10 this coming September,” Peter confirms.
One of the requirements that the Parents’ Group stipulated was that fees had to be low to make the school attractive to prospective parents. With a yearly fee structure ranging from £8,500 for children in Years 8 and 9, rising to £9,500 for the GCSE years and £10,000 for students in sixth form, these fees are substantially lower than they would be in the UK for a good day school. “One of the things that has struck me in coming to Gibraltar is how family centered it is,” Peter says. “Increasingly in the UK it is often not the children you are battling with and I think that there is a sense here in Gibraltar that families really do want the best for their children and will work with schools, so I am really looking forward to forming good strong relationships with home.” Homework, always a moot point with parents who like spending time with their children after school, is something that will be addressed at Prior Park, so there will be provision for after school homework clubs allowing the younger children to go home completely free of work. “The school will run from 9 am in the morning until 3.40 pm, with registration, a service or assembly at 8.30 am,” Peter states.
“There will be a co-curricular programme running between 4 pm and 6 pm every day but we also recognise that there is a thriving scene in Gibraltar in terms of sports, music, drama and art and we need to allow children to carry on engaging in those activities outside school and if that means they can’t do whatever it is in school – we will work with that.” Peter confirms.
What makes you tick?
First impressions of Gibraltar: I really like not having to scrape ice off the
windows! It is a beautiful place and the view from the top of the Rock is amazing
Hobbies: I am a big open water
Unfulfilled ambition: To swim across the Strait of Gibraltar
Greatest achievement in life: Having two happy and healthy children
Greatest fear: I don’t have any fears
Favourite place in the world: The toe of Cornwall
Best thing about Gibraltar: The warmth with which the people welcome visitors
Something not generally known about you: I was once the only male member of a jazz dance group
Motto: Tell the truth, trust in God and help others when you can