School's new headteacher has a real Hollywood secret

The new headteacher at Stafford Grammar School turned his back on potential careers in law and acting in a light bulb moment when he realised he wanted to give children the best start in life.

Stafford Grammar School’s new Head, Nick Pietrek, gets a tour of the grounds with pupils (from left) Georgia Smith, Sarah Carson, Jack Harman and Harry Moss, before taking up his role in September.
Stafford Grammar School’s new Head, Nick Pietrek, gets a tour of the grounds with pupils (from left) Georgia Smith, Sarah Carson, Jack Harman and Harry Moss, before taking up his role in September.

Nick Pietrek, 49, will take the helm as the new term gets underway in September to follow in the footsteps of Lee Thomas, who is leaving the role to head up a 940-pupil state high school in London.

Nick is the current headmaster at Buckinghamshire-based Thorpe House independent school for boys and a teacher of history and English, but he could have followed a very different path.

As a child he starred in TV commercials and at the age of 10 was cast as Sir Randolf Nettleby’s grandson in the 1985 British drama film, The Shooting Party, alongside actors Edward Fox and James Mason.

A golden ticket to Hollywood even beckoned the young thespian in a final head-to-head audition against award-winning British actor Christian Bale, for a leading role in Steven Spielberg’s 1987 blockbuster movie Empire of the Sun, but hopes of landing the part disappeared as his duty as the new head chorister of Guildford Cathedral Choir took priority.

Stafford Grammar’s new Head, Nick Pietrek with his wife, Laura, and sons Julius (11) and Lucan (8).

Aged 16, Nick was in joint pole position for the part of Jim Hawkins in the 1990 film version of Treasure Island. In a repeat scenario, Bale was his rival but this time a public examination scuppered his ambitions.

“Huge opportunities came but both roles went to Christian Bale. He became my nemesis! I’d like to think the decisions made by my parents led me to become a more grounded individual.

"After that I drew a line under acting. I do have sliding door moments, when I wonder what might have been, but I can’t say that I have regrets,” he said.

Meanwhile, a long-held ambition to become a lawyer nearly came to fruition when Nick attended the University of Law in Guildford as a postgraduate student, but three volunteer roles changed his perspective and steered him towards education.

The first involved teaching English at Feltham Young Offender Institute when he was a student.

A summer working with an aid organisation in Uganda followed, where he helped orphans who were victims of the civil war of the 1980s and early 90s, while his third spell of volunteering was in the United States with a Christian youth organisation, which confirmed his commitment to switch his focus to teaching.

He said: “I used to watch L.A. Law on tv and all the way through school I wanted to become a lawyer. But it dawned on me that I’d rather follow a career which helps children to get the best start in life, rather than pick up the pieces later. I truly believe the most enriching and powerful experience is to bring out the best in every child, in whichever way that might be.”

Growing up in the south Nick developed a keen interest in music, while in sport he showed prowess as a rifle shooter and at 16 he became a champion shot for the south of England. His teaching career began at two state schools in Guildford followed by a 10-year stint at Aldenham School in Hertfordshire, where he met his wife Laura. He became a deputy headteacher in Sheffield before taking charge at Thorpe House.

Nick and Laura moved to Stafford this summer with their two sons, Julius,11, and Lucan, eight, and their elderly pet cat, Annie.

“When we first visited Stafford we really liked the area and I fell in love with the school. I think it’s truly exceptional. I do feel it’s so important for children and their families that we build an environment where education is fun.

"School should be a place to create and feed curiosity, where children are able to discover something about themselves. We should celebrate our uniqueness.

“I feel incredibly privileged and fortunate to be coming to such a special place, where staff give so much of themselves to enrich the education of the pupils here. To be just a small part of Stafford Grammar feels such a privilege and is hugely exciting,” he said.

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