Rural head who combined adventure with internationalism retires

Steve Holdup.
Steve Holdup.

A rural head who combined adventure with internationalism is to retire this summer after an 11 year headship.

Steve Holdup’s leadership at Dallam School in Milnthorpe has taken the small state school, of 1,000 students aged 11-19, on to an international stage.

His vision, to combine the best that Cumbria can offer young people with a worldly perspective, has transformed the school.

Under his tenure Dallam now boasts outstanding boarding facilities, world wide ranking students and an adventurous approach to learning.

Its young people leave with a well rounded education benefiting from working alongside overseas peers.

There has been considerable examination improvement and most students now stay on to study the International Baccalaureate or A-levels in the sixth form.

Steve has also ensured that the school successfully serves the wider local community through its sports, outdoor and adult education provision.

Over the years he has secured around £13m from a variety of sources for capital investment.

This has enabled the school to operate from a single site at Milnthorpe, with up-to-date teaching and sports facilities, and offer purpose built boarding amenities at Heversham, on the old grammar school site.

With experience of living abroad and an interest in languages, Steve saw huge potential for a school with a distinctive international ethos. He and the chair of governors, John Watson, were the driving force behind Dallam becoming an International Baccalaureate World School in 2007, now the only one in the state sector in Cumbria and North Lancashire.

Last year Dallam was a British Academy winner for the most innovative teaching of modern languages in the UK and this year’s IB students achieved 11 percentage points above the world average overall with a fifth of students in the top 10 per cent.

Mr Holdup’s language expertise is also called on by government and leadership bodies.

He has sat on a number of national committees advising on developments in language teaching and the new National Curriculum.

He has been a National Leader of Education for the National College for School Leadership and a lead facilitator for the college’s International Leadership Learning Programme.

He has developed links for the area’s schools with partners in continental Europe and beyond and established a formal relationship with the Spanish government to promote languages through bilingual learning.

As well as establishing Dallam as a specialist language college, Steve Holdup is responsible for the school becoming the first Adventure Learning School in the country.

It benefits students by providing them with a distinctive curriculum, based on the challenge of outdoor adventure.

The school punches well above its weight in other areas too. Dallam competes across the full range of sports, enjoying considerable success in the South Lakes and at county level.

It is a multiple winner of the Rotary Club’s schools’ public speaking competition, and national finalist on two occasions in his time at the school.

Dallam is one of only a small number of secondary schools nationally to hold, since 2008, the prestigious Artsmark Gold Award.

It is a regional centre for outdoor education, and last year became an operating authority for the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme.

Reflecting on his headship, Mr Holdup said: “Dallam is very different from other schools.

“As well as traditional teaching we have a boarding school, outdoor and community education and sports facilities. We have a lot to offer our young and lifelong learners.

“I have, of course not managed this alone. I have been supported by a tremendous and very capable team of staff and by a governing body which has always expected great things of this school.”

Beyond Dallam, Steve was an original founding member and twice chair of the South Lakes Federation which seeks to improve teaching in membership schools.

He also chaired the Cumbria Association of Secondary Heads at a time of change for Cumbrian education and the formation of academies.

Originally from the South Coast and having worked in schools around the country, Mr Holdup talks of how happy he has been working, living and bringing up his family in the South Lakes.

Now though, with his wife Karen, he is to relocate to sunnier climes on his olive farm in the south of Spain.

John Watson, Dallam chair of governors for the last six years said: “Dallam is unrecognisable from the school Steve took on 11 years ago. He has established a very strong foundation for its future and he should rightly be proud of his remarkable achievements.”