Pennine school set to celebrate historic anniversary
Rishworth School will soon be marking a major milestone. We spoke to the Acting Head about the new school year and plans for 2024.

Rishworth School will soon be marking a major milestone. We spoke to the Acting Head about the new school year and plans for 2024.

If you could bottle up passion and enthusiasm, you’d been trying to capture some of what Jess Sheldrick appears to have in abundance. Her attitude is infectious.

Parents, teaching staff and students can feel secure in the knowledge that the Acting Head of Rishworth School is dedicated to her task and role. She is proud of her new-found position as the first woman to be head at Rishworth.

Jess is ‘Acting Head’ because the Head, Dr Anthony Wilkins, who only started the role in 2020, is off work ill, diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment. Dr Wilkins, who previously spent 13 years as prep and pre-prep head at Heathfield, was focussed on developing Rishworth’s outdoor ethos and extra-curricular offering.

Jess is quick to say: “Anthony has been an incredibly supportive mentor and colleague. We still meet up and talk every few weeks. My ethos and his are the same, the longstanding values of the school won’t be changing.”

She said parents love the small class sizes, the focus on nurturing and developing well-rounded-students and the strong community spirit the school has. While welcoming all faiths, the school’s values are based on Christian ethics, established almost 300 years ago.

Rishworth is a non-selective co-ed boarding and day school set in140 acres of parkland in the beautiful Ryburn Valley, near the M62, West Yorkshire. It offers continuous education for around 420 children aged from three to 18.

Many of the day pupils come from the surrounding area of West Yorkshire (about half from the Pennine villages and half from greater Manchester). Boarders, making up about 10% of the school population, are a mix of British and overseas students.

“There’s a real international community within the school,” explained Jess. “We have 14 different nationalities in our boarding house. They really bring a wealth of cultural opportunities to the whole school.”

Jess has spent 21 years at Rishworth, having trained as a biology teacher. This year she is not only performing the role of Acting Head but will be in the classroom teaching psychology, RS and biology.

As a mother of two teenage boys, she has boundless energy. Aside from her busy work life, she recently found time to get married (in July) and travelled to Newcastle upon Tyne to take part in the annual Great North Run half marathon on September 10.

There seems nothing jaded about her love for the job and the school: “Teaching is vocational. It’s hard to do if you don’t want to give something back and encourage young people to engage their minds and to be the best they can be.

“Every day can be so different. When you’re looking after young people you really can’t predict what’s going to happen. Every day is so different and that’s what I love about the job. I’m also lucky to have such a supportive team around me. A team that has great energy to encourage students to engage at all levels across school life.”

Like many non-selective schools, the emphasis for pupil success is judged not just on the chase for A*s (though the school has very respectable grades) but the value it offers children with its broad, all-rounder education and the massive choice of extra-curricular clubs and emphasis on community spirit.

“Public benefit is something we recognise we need to do. There is lots of community work and this will be increasing in the next 12 months,” said Jess.

Next year is the 300th anniversary for the school. Community activities are set to be a large part of the activity plan. Jess explained: “There will be lots more community projects moving through 2024. We will be looking to diversify, identifying ways we can use our facilities more with community groups.”

For such an outdoorsy school – sport is nurtured, encouraged and celebrated at Rishworth. Sports facilities include a swimming pool, tennis and squash courts, rugby and cricket pitches and the much-loved ‘Top Pitch’ with its stone pavilion and dramatic views across the Pennines.

The anniversary year will also coincide with capital expenditure projects in the school nursery and sixth form.

Jess said: “Next year will be a year of celebrations with Rishworth not simply investing in its facilities but also the wider community, our alumni and other groups.”

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Posted 4th October 2023

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