KIERAN McLaughlin once had visions of becoming a rock star.

Today, however, he is banging a different kind of drum.

In a landscape where the skills agenda is becoming increasingly paramount, Mr McLaughlin is headmaster at Durham School, where he says he is overseeing a drive to ensure pupils achieve their full potential and are prepared for the workplace.

Mr McLaughlin, a Cambridge graduate, says that in the workplace, as in life, it isn’t necessarily how often you fall that defines you but how often, and with what determination, you get back up again.

He said: “Academic prowess is undeniably important, but no matter which career, field of study, industry or branch of academia our pupils enter, they will need far more than good grades.

“They will need self-belief, to ensure their voices are heard and their opinions listened to, they will need curiosity, to explore alternative methods and ideas and, above all, they will need to be confident and resilient.

“Resilience is possibly the most important attribute any of us can possess, particularly those with an entrepreneurial spirit, and it is an attribute Durham School takes time to foster.”

However, Mr McLaughlin, who says his ambition to become a musician has now “sadly been laid to rest”, says such resilience is best established through experience and by giving each pupil the chance to try.

He said: “Sometimes they will succeed and, inevitably, sometimes they will fail.

“But when that happens, we will pick them up, dust them off and encourage them to try again.

“Whether they are taking up a sport, learning a musical instrument or simply climbing a tree, each time they try they will learn from what went wrong and, just as importantly, what went right.”

Mr McLaughlin said challenging times are being faced by the independent school sector, highlighting strong state education, adversarial approaches from all political parties and increasing affordability issues.

However, he said he remains positive about contributing to the education of young people in the region.

He added: “What sustains us through the challenges is the belief in what we do; we see every day how our schools make a difference to the lives of young people.

“Like any teacher, I am proud of the pupils who finish their time at school ready to make their way in the world.

“Over my career I have met some extraordinary young people and it is immensely rewarding to see them living happy and fulfilled lives.

“Having a part in that, however small, is for me what working in education is about.”

Five minutes with… Kieran McLaughlin

Favourite North-East building and why?

The Sage in Gateshead. It’s architecturally stunning and a fantastic venue for Durham School’s House music competition.

What was your first job and how much did you get paid?

A physics teacher at Haberdashers’ Aske’s school in North London and paid at the bottom of the teaching scale, which was around £14,000.

What is the worst job you've had?

Double glazing salesman.

What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner?

Thai curry.

What would your superpower be?

To be able to be in two places at once.

Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party

John Peel, Anthony Wilson, Anthony Burgess and James Joyce.

Most expensive thing you've bought - other than car or house - and how much?

Engagement ring. The details are lost in the mists of time, but of course it was worth every penny.

Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why?

Professionally, Sam Freedman or Laura McInerney as they pretty much have educational developments covered. For fun, I enjoy following some Liverpool characters as they remind me of home.

Favourite book?

My standard answer to this is The Magus, by John Fowles, which I found an extraordinary read when I was younger. More recently I would say anything by Julian Barnes or William Boyd.

When did you last cry?

At the loss of a relative.

What is your greatest achievement?

I was an adult black belt in jiu-jitsu by the age of 17.

What’s the best piece of advice in business you've ever been given?

Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

Favourite animal and why?

I would have to say a lion, because I was once bitten by one and survived.

Most famous person on your mobile phone?

I don’t have their contact details, but when I taught at one school in London it was where Clive Anderson, Boris Johnson and Paul Whitehouse (among others) sent their children. So I can truthfully claim to have been interviewed by Clive Anderson, albeit at parents’ evening.

What was the last band you saw live?

A very good folk duo at the Empty Shop in Durham. Sadly I can’t remember what they were called.

Describe your perfect night in

Good food, good wine, good company.

In another life I would be...

A minor rock star.

Who would play you in a film of your life?

Martin Freeman.

What irritates you?


What's your secret talent?

I can put a fruit pastille in my mouth without chewing it.