Farsighted Headmaster of Oakham School

John Buchanan was one of the most successful post war headmasters. In 1958 when he went to Oakham as headmaster, the school was direct-grant, and served as a minor public school for 200 boarders and as the local grammar school for Rutland day boys, with a total of 330 pupils. Twenty years later, when Buchanan retired, Oakham was wholly independent, internationally orientated, with 950 pupils. The school had become the largest co-educational boarding public school on the Headmasters’ Conference.

John David Buchanan was educated at Stowe and Trinity College, Cambridge. When war broke out, he joined the Grenadier Guards and served with great distinction. He was adjutant of the 3rd Battalion, 1941-43, and mentioned in dispatches in 1943; became Brigade Major, 1st Guards Brigade, 1944-45; and was appointed MBE for his war services. After demobilisation, he spent a year in New York as private secretary to Sir Alexander Cadogan, Britain’s representative at the UN, followed by various teaching jobs. He became headmaster of Oakham in 1958.

Within 18 months, Buchanan had increased the fees by 20 per cent, which allowed ten new staff. He realised that there was no quicker way of transforming a school than by recruiting quality teachers, and saw his efforts rewarded by higher academic and sporting achievement. Buchanan rapidly realised that to achieve his objectives Oakham would have to become co-educational. In 1971 the trustees agreed to this decision.
Buchanan’s finest hour came in March 1970 when the trustees of Oakham communicated to the chief education officer for Rutland that “we are resolved that as from September 1970, the school will cease to accept direct grant and so become a wholly independent school”. This announcement became national news and was played out in the media.

Buchanan’s association with Oakham remained intense to the end. In recognition of his dedication, the trustees invited him to become the Visitor in June 2003, and, in the winter term of that year, he attended his first trustees’ meeting for 25 years. He was to be found on the touchlines and boundaries of Doncaster Close for rugby and cricket into the summer term of 2005 and offered true friendship and support to Oakham’s most recent headmasters.

John Buchanan, MBE, Headmaster of Oakham School 1958-77, was born on October 26, 1916. He died on July 26, 2005, aged 88.

The Times © 10 August 2005