Michael Mavor: Charismatic headmaster who led Rugby into the co-educational era

Michael Mavor, who died suddenly while on a trip to Peru, was a dynamic and energising headmaster who, throughout the course of a distinguished career, led three of Britain's foremost schools – Gordonstoun, Rugby and Loretto. At each, alongside an outwardly authoritarian approach, he treated all with great courtesy and friendly ease. In turn, one could not help but notice the warm affection and deep respect for him.

Born in Malaysia of Scottish parents, Michael Mavor was educated at Loretto School near Edinburgh. There, in addition to his outstanding academic abilities, he was captain of cricket, hockey and golf, editor of the school paper, pipe major in the band and Head Boy of both junior and senior schools. In 1965 he was awarded an open exhibition to read English at St John's College, Cambridge; he also represented the university at rugby and cricket.

Acquiring a Postgraduate Certificate in Education, in 1969 he began his teaching career in America. Awarded a Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship, for four years he worked at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. While there, in 1971, he published a volume of study notes on Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews. On his return to England in 1972, he taught English at Tonbridge School. Impressing as a drama producer and sports coach, he won particular distinction when promoted to director of studies.

In January 1979, aged only 31, Mavor succeeded John Kempe as headmaster of Gordonstoun School in Moray, Scotland, the youngest such appointment in the school's history. Assuming responsibility for educating Princes Andrew and Edward, it was inevitable that, before too long, he would be cast into the national spotlight. This duly came in May 1980, when, amid a blaze of publicity, nine boys were summarily expelled for the possession of cannabis. He won plaudits for his skilful handling of a very difficult situation, and his time at the school was marked by a distinct improvement in the school's academic performance. To his great delight, this was achieved without detracting either from the school's distinctive outward-bound capability or its proud tradition of service to the community.

In 1990, he moved south to take on a new challenge as headmaster of Rugby School. Here, amid an institution seemingly out of step with the modern world, his brief was simple: reverse the perceived decline in the school's fortunes, raise academic standards and improve pupil numbers. While he scrupulously respected and valued Rugby's rich history and traditions, he nevertheless proceeded to introduce perhaps the most radical changes to the school since the reforms of Thomas Arnold in the middle of the 19th century. Thus, from September 1993, this bastion of male boarding-school values would begin the inexorable march to full co-education.

However, in 1995, his unexpected promotion of sixth-former Louise Woolcock to be joint Head of School proved a step too far for many. That year, in addition to their banner-waving protests, the boys famously boycotted a chapel service to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Mavor's predecessor, Arnold. He was outwardly unperturbed and, undoubtedly aided by Woolcock's deft handling of the media, Mavor's strategy proved an immediate success, applications from prospective parents increasing dramatically.

Amid his burgeoning reputation, it was perhaps inevitable that his sphere of influence should spread beyond his immediate environs. Already a leading light at the influential Oxford Conference in Education and much in demand as a school governor and adviser, in 1997 he was awarded the ultimate accolade when he was elected as chairman of the Headmasters' Conference (HMC). Then, with his customary enthusiasm and panache, he went out of his way to welcome the new Labour Government's embryonic ideas for more productive partnerships with independent education. To his lasting regret, it remained a rare aspiration unfulfilled.

Following 11 successful years in the Midlands, in 2001 he could not resist the lure of a return north of the border to his alma mater, being appointed headmaster of Loretto School. Though it was much smaller than Rugby, many of the problems were the same. Often taking a pragmatic approach to situations, he remained resolute in his belief of the benefits, both social and academic, of a good boarding-school education.

He was a long-standing enthusiast for the International Baccalaureate examination, and among other changes, perhaps his most distinctive came with the innovative creation of the Loretto Golf Academy. Under its auspices, talented young golfers could develop their sporting prowess without detracting from their academic progress.

Addressing the assembled masses on his final day as headmaster in June 2008, he famously illustrated his sermon by driving a golf ball firmly down the aisle of a packed school chapel. Having assessed the health and safety implications of his possible action as "High Risk", typically, he chose to go ahead. This says everything about a man who, at every stage of his life, was at ease with both himself and the career he had chosen. It was this underlying freedom that allowed him to be so generous to all those who may not have been aware of the talent they possessed, but whose full potential he would so resolutely help to realise.

Kenneth Shenton



Michael Barclay Mavor, teacher and headmaster: born Kuala Lipis, Malaysia 29 January 1947; married 1970 Jane Sucksmith (one son, one daughter); CVO 1983; died Lima, Peru 8 December 2009.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Facilities & Operational Administrator

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting position has risen ...

Ashdown Group: Sales Support - Buckinghamshire - £25,000

£20000 - £25000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Internal Sales Executive ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Smart Meter Engineer - Gas and Electric - Dual Fuel

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises in the installa...

Recruitment Genius: Programme Manager

£30000 - £35500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum