Interview: Simon Robertson – A Tribute to Dedication

As part of our ongoing celebration of the people who have shaped Sandbach School, the Old Sandbachians’ Association is honoured to feature an interview with Mr. Simon Robertson, the school’s recently retired Director of Sport.
By Ryan Grant, OSA Special Correspondent

After an extraordinary 32 years of service, Mr. Robertson has left an indelible mark on countless students and the wider school community, with his passion for teaching and dedication to sport inspiring generations of young athletes.

Many of our members will fondly remember their time under his guidance, whether on the playing field or in the classroom.

Join us as we reflect on his remarkable career and the legacy he leaves behind…

Simon Robertson, Crewe Road, Front Field, mid 2000’s Sports Day Heats.
Firstly, what are your earliest and fondest memories from your time at Sandbach School?

“There are so many! Interview day… the first time you see the school, its settings and front façade. Of course, being told I had got the job! Or, in my case, one of the jobs – as two PE appointments were made on interview day.”

“I also remember the staffroom. Where so many staff were genuinely interested and instantly welcoming to its new young staff – such a key part of the school. The tea & stickies!”

“The staff themselves were keen to see you settle in. Steve Housen (Design & Technology) , Ray Russell (Humanities at the time but later Business & Economics), Peter Howells (Head of the new intake) and Alan Latchford (History & Head of the House System) all took an interest and would check in regularly.”

“Speaking of the house system, I remember how well the boys led that system, not forgetting Tug of War, Road Relay and the Leech Bowl… impressive and pretty special lunchtime events when supported by what felt like the whole school.”

“Sport was, of course, a major part of my time at the school. The Front Field was a dreamy place on a sunny summer afternoon or evening, and what an environment to be able to teach in (when dry!), cricket matches, Sports Days, staff cricket.”

“Past pupils always recall overseas tours and trips and all hold very special memories but the Sri Lanka Rugby Tour in summer 1993 – stands out as a bit of a mind blowing ‘wow’ trip.”

“Nothing beat standing back (when you remembered) and watching a full site of after-school clubs or Saturday morning fixtures giving so many opportunities for the boys.”

Reflecting on your long tenure, what do you consider to be your greatest sporting achievement during your time as Director of Sport?

“For me, it was seeing a significant increase in the participation of all aspects of the PE curriculum and extra-curricular sports offering.”

“We were not just a rugby, football or hockey school, and seeing students succeeding for the first time in winning county titles or appearing at National Schools Finals will always rank highly.”

“County Schools Finals appearances and titles are now almost expected. The school has appeared at National Schools Finals in no fewer than seven different team sports. Those were always very proud occasions!”

“The PE Department have always worked hard and been supported on their journey to create a broad and inclusive PE & Sport Programme within a state comprehensive school environment. Parents actively seek to send their sons and daughters to Sandbach School because of the PE & extra-curricular sporting offer.”

“PE Specialists and trainees wanted to get a job in the PE department at Sandbach School, and still do!”

Department members past and present at The School, Cricket Pavilion on SJR’s last day of term July 2022
The school cricket pavilion now bears your name as a tribute to your contributions. How does it feel to have such a lasting legacy at the school?

“It was a complete surprise on the last day of my time at the school.”

“I was very humbled, maybe a little embarrassed, privileged and proud. It was certainly not something I would have ever thought of, discussed or imagined.”

“But, I have been very fortunate to find myself in such a privileged position throughout my career to hopefully provide opportunities and pathways ,for so many and maybe make a difference for a few.”

Looking back, are there any moments or decisions in your career that you regret? How have those experiences shaped your approach to sports and education?

“Occasions when you knew you could offer more support to a pupil. My early years in post saw me maybe conform to type but you learn.”

“Early on, I regret any episode that may well have put a pupil off PE or physical activity… that one-thing that can lead you to losing a pupil.”

“Learning from other colleagues with greater experience, observing what worked and what did not work helped me to develop my own style and philosophy.”

Throughout your time at the school, you likely collaborated with various staff members. Who stands out in your mind when you look back on that period?

“Without doubt, the different colleagues and teams I had the privilege to work with in the PE Department. I believe we always made excellent appointments.”

“The department became closely aligned with both the Music (Kath Hudson, Jon Barber & Grace Barber) & Performing Arts (Jon Lonsdale & Maggie Gaston) departments during and after the school gained ‘Arts College’ Status – departments that would also go above and beyond outside of the classroom.”

“Ray Russell, who was a key member of the staffroom for many, many years was a confidant and mentor to me and to so many others. He just checked in with so many people and always took that genuine interest in the person.”

“I was lucky to have two incredibly supportive Headteachers who had the vision to support the growth of an already strong department at very different times in the school’s development, in Colin Brown & Sarah Burns.”

Being in a leadership role, what lessons have you learned – particularly about teamwork, communication and motivation – that have served you well since?

“Make sure you know your colleagues and lead by example; be positive, and listen well to others at all times.”

“Knowing your team, building strong relationships and taking an interest in them and their lives is vital. I believe everybody should have a voice and be encouraged to contribute, and it’s important to support their development as a professional and as a person.”

“Growing and creating a team ethic and identity, both within the school and outside, was always important…and not achieved overnight.”

In your role as Director of Sport, how did you balance the development of pupils’ skills with fostering a supportive and inclusive sports culture within the school?

“Wherever possible, I worked hard to ensure that the PE programme was not governed and driven by the extra-curricular programme, and was not seen as a games department. Not sports specific.”

“It also helped to appoint strong physical educationalists and support staff, who helped adapt, embrace and move with national and institutional change.”

Of course, sport and school often equal rivalries – what do you recall of those?

“Apart from the obvious House rivalries between Welles, Ward, Lea & Craig! Key rivalries on the Sports field would exist locally with St Ambrose College, Wilmslow & Lymm Schools, but it was always nice to perform well against the independent sector and grammars in all sports.”

”Win lose or draw it was always super when the Sandbach School product or event looked good.”

What do you make of the way education and sport have evolved in the time since you left the school?

“Education is always changing and always has done, and almost two years is considered a long time.”

“However, it’s probably too early though to make any kind of judgement. And, of course, I am not in the school anymore (soap box is away at the moment).”

Beyond the cricket pavilion dedication, are there other moments or pieces of memorabilia from the school that stand out to you as particularly meaningful?

“Where to begin! The Front Field, Chapel Window…very Sandbach School, the phone box, general tradition, Ut Severis Seges.”

“Then there are all the overseas sports tours and squads we took away, ski trips and history trips, plus MFL (cultural visits). I’ll always remember the unbelievable journey of Twickenham 2010, and just generally being in a privileged position throughout my career.”

“’Morning Sir’, ‘thanks Sir’, ‘enjoyed that Sir’…”

“And its always great to reconnect and chat to former students”

Looking ahead, what advice would you give to the current and future generations of students and sports enthusiasts at the school, based on your experience and contributions?

“It is the same message that Sandbach School PE have always given to the new intake… ‘take advantage of the opportunities on offer and be part of it whether you have taken part before or not. Try new things, have a go.”

Ut Severis Seges


Crewe Road,Front Field, mid 2000’s Sports Day Heats.
Department members past and present at The School, Cricket Pavilion on SJR’s last day of term July 2022
PE Department early 2000’s
BR: SJR (sitting), Paul Grattage, Jerry Dowling
FR: (seated) Richard Ayres, Neil Darling, Richard Pickles.
Twickenham 2010 1st XV Coaching Team : Joel Unsworth (Teacher i/c Rugby), SJR, Will Cargill after the boys had just won The Daily Mail Under 18 Vase.