‘Give everything your best shot’ - principal at One sixth form college in Ipswich, Alan Whittaker, reflects on his career and life

Alan Whittaker, One

Alan Whittaker, One - Credit: Archant

Alan Whittaker, principal at One sixth form in Ipswich offers some advice to his younger self

One sixth form in Ipswich. Pic: Simon Parker

One sixth form in Ipswich. Pic: Simon Parker - Credit: Archant

How would you describe yourself at the age of 18?

I’d say I was relatively carefree. I’d just left home and had started a Biochemistry and Genetics degree at the University of Nottingham. I picked a university that had a good academic reputation and a great cultural vibe. I’d had a really wonderful upbringing but the excitement of leaving home and going to live in a big city with lots of things to do was very exciting.

What three tips would you give to your younger self?

Looking back, I think I should have aimed a bit higher and at that age I didn’t really have a plan.


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Growing up, I hadn’t really thought about being a doctor or going into one of those big professions. My immediate ambition was to get a trade. As I got older I became more ambitious.

I’ve also learnt that you need to enjoy life and keep a good work life balance. By all means work hard and play hard - but work hard first and then play hard. Get the work done – then go out and party.

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Finally, if I had my time again I would have travelled more.

Is there anything you would do differently?

I would probably have taken a few more risks or thought about different careers when I was younger.

I did once look at taking a post graduate course in wall picture restoration. I got the information and I seriously looked at this as an option but I went for teaching in the end. Part of me thinks that I could have ended up restoring great works of art like the Sistine Chapel. But I’ve got no regrets about my career in education.

Are there any projects you are particularly proud of?

The really tangible one is Suffolk One.

Back in 2003, a group of head teachers were asked to think differently and come up with something that would change the educational landscape of Suffolk.

So we came up with some radical plans to open up Suffolk One (now One), I was asked to lead on this and it all came together on time and under budget.

The day we opened was like Christmas, New Year and birthday celebrations all rolled into one. The wow factor was amazing.

We wanted young people to feel like someone who goes and works for one of those big fancy corporations like Apple or Google. We knew that if we gave our students a good environment they would produce good things.

Good people produce good things; if you put them in a great environment they produce even better things and by investing in young people we were showing them that we want them to do well.

Even today, thanks to One and the amazing staff team and our fantastic students, I can look anyone in the eye and say: “If you send you son or daughter here and if they are prepared to work hard – they will do well.”

Can you point to a turning point or landmark that made you think your career would be a success?

It was when I realised that I’d made the right choice by going into education. I started teaching at 26 and a year into my career, I was encouraged to go for a promotion. I didn’t get the job – I got a similar position a year later.

However, the interview process confirmed that I was in the right career for me. I thought this is something I can be good at – this is a career where I can make a difference and pull people together.

If you could relive one day what would it be?

The most important thing in my life is family – so I would say my wedding day and the birth of my three children were all very special times. Business-wise, the opening of One was a proud moment.

But I’m also a big fan of Hull City Football Club. You don’t get many opportunities to go to Wembley as a Hull fan - but we did in 2008.

My Dad passed away and I miss him terribly – but he was there. My two sons and my brother were also with me and so were many of my old school friends.

In terms of the game itself, a home town boy called Dean Windass scored a cracking goal to win the game. It was just a great day and to share it with my Dad was really very special.

What would your motto be?

Give everything your best shot. If you can look yourself in the mirror and say; “I did everything to the best of my ability” – that’s all you can do.

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