300 years of history awaited Mark McCullough when he stepped through the doors of one of Northern Ireland’s most respected schools at the start of this new term to take up his position as Principal at Rainey Endowed Grammar School in Magherafelt.
And already, with just a couple of weeks under his belt, he admits the challenge ahead is an exciting one as he prepares to lead the famous old sschool.
“This was, quite simply, too good an opportunity for me to miss,” he told the MAIL this week. “The academic record of the school is there for all to see, but what has struck me in the past couple of weeks is the fantastic caring community the school has fostered over the years and the all round excellence of students and staff. This is something I want to maintain and build on in the years ahead and start the school off on another 300 years of history.”
The Cullybackey man returns to these shores after a 12-year spell in England and a career to date which has seen him travel to Germany and France.
Starting out at Cambridge House in Ballymena, Mark went on to study Modern Languages at Queens University Belfast, progressing to a PGCE, travelling in Europe and finally settling to a teaching position at The Samual Ward Academy near Cambridge in England.
It was there where he progressed through the ranks, from head of year, to vice-principal and finally to Head of School, shaping it into a well respected and acclaimed seat of learning.
“The time was right for me to return home and when the opportunity at Rainey Endowed came up that made my mind up completely.”
With his young family now safely returned to Northern Ireland, work at the school has begun, with his first task getting to know the staff and pupils as quickly as possible.
“There is a fantastic teaching staff at Rainey Endowed, something which is evident in the wonderful set of results our pupils produce year on year. That’s something I want to see continue long into the future,” he said.
“There are currently some 720 pupils at The Rainey and I want to make sure this grows as our community grows. I want the Rainey to be a school students continue to want to come to, and parents continue to want to send their children to. We are already well over subscribed with pupils from primary schools showing their intentions to come and learn here and I want to make sure this is a school which can cater for as many of those pupils as possible. The excellece the Rainey is renowned for must not be diluted, I want to see the school maintain the position it is in now, with academic success available for all sections of our community. There is a great need for a non-denominational Grammar School in this region and I’m determined to make sure The Rainey maintains it’s hughly held position within the education sector of this country. That means we must be allowed to grow to fit the needs of the community, and that’s the vision of the school I will be fighting for in the years to come.
“There is so much good work that goes on behind the scenes. We can’t afford to be seduced by glitzy buildings, it’s what’s underneath, the activites and learning that goes on that’s the important thing. I want the best for and the best from every pupil that enters the doors of Rainey Endowed, as has been the tradition and I want the staff, pupils and parents all to work together to make sure the heritage of the Rainey is maintained and improved on. It’s vital that we give our young people the best academic opportunities we can offer, and the Rainey Endowed School in it’s present format provides those opportunities.
“This school has an enormous potential for growth and must be allowed to grow. For too long the authorities have hindered our progress but if we work together as a school we have a great opportunity to make certain the tradition of The Rainey is not undermined.
“It’s already evident that the five post primary level schools in the town work well together through the Magherafelt Learning Partnership and those relationships across the community need to be fostered and developed. Rainey Endowed needs to be at the forefront of that as a place of academic learning.”
Married to Cara, Mark not only has his hands full in his working life, his five children keep him on his toes at home. Callum (10), Eve (8), Rudi (6), Rowan (5) and Jonas (10 months) make sure there’s never a dull moment, though Mark still finds time to pursue his sporitng interests in football, rugby and cricket.
And as his family settles back into the Northern Ireland way of life, Mark is finding a warm welcome in Magherafelt.
“I have to thank the staff, pupils, parents, governors and the community for their help in making me feel welcome here. We have a lot of work ahead of us but I’m confident that if we all work together, support each other and continue to strive for excellence in the way this school has done for the past 300 years then we all have a very bright future together.”