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An Interview With... Neville Watson

Mr Neville Watson took up post as principal of Forge at the start of January 2007, so the P7 children who asked these questions back then have grown up, finished university degrees, gone out to work and started to make their way in the world.

Forge too has grown and changed and Mr Watson, well, the baby referred to below is a teenager, he has another daughter, a cat called Sparky and is...older. 


What were the other schools you have taught in? What were they like?

I taught in Omagh Integrated Primary School, which is a school very like Forge. It was about the same size as Forge when I worked there and the pupils came from many different backgrounds both from within Northern Ireland and from beyond. I was a P5 teacher and then a P7 teacher there and I also taught P.E. to most of the other classes in the school in the afternoons. I then spent five years as principal of Dromore Primary School, which is a small country school in Dromore in County Tyrone; there is more than one Dromore, as you’ll see later!

In small, rural schools the principal also teaches a class and my class was a mixture of P6 and 7 pupils. For a couple of years I had a mixture of P5, 6 and 7. A lot of the pupils in Dromore lived on or around farms and the school overlooked fields and hills so it was quite different from Forge. 

Have you been principal of an integrated school before?

No. The school in Dromore that I was principal of was a controlled school so it had many similarities to Forge in the way that it was managed, but most of the children there were from one particular background. We did have a special link with another school in the same village called St. Dympna’s Primary School.   

What did you want to be when you were a child?

All the usual things for a boy: policeman, footballer, astronaut, James Bond! I think I had different ideas at different stages. Most of all I think I wanted to be a builder like my Dad. I must admit that until I was a lot older being a primary school principal wasn’t a job that I thought about very much.  

Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I was born in Banbridge Hospital, which is closed now, and I grew up in Dromore in County Down.  

What elements of your previous schools would you like to introduce at Forge?

I’m interested in happy, healthy schools and in doing things that add to the life of a school both in terms of the normal day to day work and also beyond that. At both of the previous schools I worked in we had health promotion programmes and did things that allowed pupils to get involved in developing the school like a pupils’ council. We also looked at developing our school grounds to make them more interesting and useful. Some elements of these kinds of things might work very well here. At the minute though, there are so many exciting things happening here that I need to get a better understanding of all that is already going on before we start to introduce new things.

Had you ever heard of Forge before you applied for the job? (If so, what did you hear!?)

I had only heard of Forge as an integrated school in Belfast. I was living in Omagh in my last job and I suppose that was a bit far away to hear a lot about Forge. I did see an article about Forge on a news web site when the NIE safety initiative was launched here. I think that the new website is going to a really good way for people to get to know a bit more about Forge. 

Why were you keen to apply for the job?

There were a few reasons. I think that anyone who is a school principal in a small school is always going to be wondering what it will be like to work as the principal of a bigger school with more teachers and pupils. It means that there is more going on and the opportunities to do exciting things are greater. When I saw the ad for Forge in the paper and then found a little out about the school I thought it sounded like just the kind of job I was looking for. I’m also a person who feels that integrated education gives children and teachers in Northern Ireland really good experiences and helps to broaden the way they see the world. There are many really good schools that aren’t integrated but having been in an integrated school and really enjoyed it I was very happy to have an opportunity to come back into one. Finally, my wife and I are both from the East of the province originally and we’d always intended to move back to this area eventually. Having spent almost 12 (very happy) years living in Omagh we decided it was time to make the move. Forge gave us the opportunity to that.   

What are your first impressions of Forge?

I have had a really warm welcome from everyone at Forge. The pupils are a very cheerful bunch who always say hello and smile. Many parents have come up and shaken hands with me and introduced themselves and the staff here have also been really friendly – they all work together really well to keep a very busy school operating smoothly. Forge feels like a really warm, friendly and positive place and that makes a huge difference.   

Have you ever taught in another country?

Not really, I trained as a teacher in North Wales in an area where a lot of people spoke Welsh, but the schools I was in as a student teacher there were very similar to schools here. 

What were your favourite subjects when you were at school?

I liked history and geography. I also love reading, so I found English quite good.I had a brilliant history teacher at secondary school and one of my primary school teachers who taught us about the Vikings was also really good. I think that makes a huge difference to how you feel about subjects.  

What were your favourite books as a child?

I’m a bit predictable there I’m afraid. I loved Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. A substitute teacher read it to us in P6 and she was really good at reading stories. I was captivated by the stories and went home and tried to make some of the things Danny makes in the book – the paper balloon and a kite. I also loved books with adventure in the stories so I used to guzzle down detective stories and adventure stories. I remember really enjoying Swallows and Amazons even though it was ancient even when I was a boy.  

Do you have a family?

I am married to Eileen and we have a beautiful baby girl called Ellen. My Mum and Dad both still live in Dromore and I have two sisters one is a doctor and the other a nurse.  

Do you have any pets, and what are your favourite animals?

I have no pets. As a boy I had a dog called Patch. He was a fox terrier with no sense of obedience or direction!  

Do you play any instruments?

I play the guitar in a head-teachery kind of way. Our family are quite musical and I was in a brass band when I was a boy along with my Dad and played a tenor horn but that skill has since lapsed.