Belfast man to become first lay headmaster at England’s top Catholic school

Ampleforth, the prestigious Benedictine school in Northern England is to get its first lay headmaster, Belfast man David Lambon, who has strong ideas about education and how to get the best from teenagers

Sat, May 10, 2014, 01:01

This summer David Lambon will leave behind St Malachy’s College in urban north Belfast to take over as headmaster of one of the world’s great Catholic schools, Ampleforth in rural north Yorkshire.

It is a prestigious appointment but this 46-year-old native of Andersonstown in west Belfast isn’t unduly daunted. He believes universal principles apply when dealing with teenage students.

He also believes in the value of Catholic education and is prepared to challenge the views of the “passionately secular” Minister of Education Ruairí Quinn and also of First Minister Peter Robinson when he compares Catholic schools to a “benign form of apartheid”.

Lambon will be the first lay head of €36,000 a year Ampleforth, where British blue-blood and monied Catholics are educated, along with students from affluent Catholic families around the world. Until now, the college has been run by a succession of monks from Ampleforth Monastery, but the college is moving with the times. Traditionally a boys’ school, a third of its 600 pupils are now girls.

Lambon acknowledges that there is a cultural difference between Irish Catholics and English Catholics, particularly the elite cohort he will be teaching. “But fundamentally my job will be about children,” says Lambon and, whatever about their addiction to modern technology and their teenage cockiness, which he sees as a defensive facade, he has great faith in them.

Rather like the old Who song, he believes the kids are alright, whether privileged or not.

Ampleforth is the school attended by the current and previous dukes of Norfolk, England’s most aristocratic English Catholic family. It also boasts a significant list of old Amplefordians such as the late English Catholic primate Cardinal Basil Hume and the former abbot of Glenstal Abbey in Co Limerick Fr Christopher Dillon.

Other alumni include Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes, Irish painter Roderick O’Conor, actor Rupert Everett, former Northern Ireland Office minister Michael Ancram, Captain Robert Nairac, killed by the IRA in 1977, and former England and Ireland rugby internationals Lawrence Dallaglio, Guy and Simon Easterby.

Ampleforth, which was founded in 1802, has a great sense of itself but so too has St Malachy’s, which was established 31 years later. It also has a roll-call of leading alumni that includes the late Irish primate Cardinal Cahal Daly, Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, writers Brian Moore, Michael McLaverty, Bernard McLaverty and Robert McLiam Wilson, actor Ciarán Hinds, TV presenter Eamonn Holmes, and Major John MacBride executed in 1916 and Eoin MacNeill who countermanded the order for the Rising.

Lambon won’t be overawed. He was head-hunted for the post. He received an email “out of the blue” from executive search and assessment firm Saxton Bampfylde, which was engaged in a worldwide trawl on behalf of Ampleforth to find a new headmaster. This came as he was just over two years into his job as head of St Malachy’s.

“I had no intention of moving but Ampleforth is probably seen as one of the world’s leading Catholic schools. It was the opportunity to further challenge myself as much as anything else . . . it was hard to refuse.”

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