How did you become a deputy headteacher at your school?
Having completed my teacher training, I initially worked at a different primary school in the area. I completed my NQT year, then I was tasked with being the PSHE lead at the school, and later became a science coordinator. I also became a mentor for students from Christchurch University who were studying to become teachers, a role which I found very rewarding.
I joined St Matthew’s 4 years ago as a key stage 1 leader, then I became an assistant head, and eventually a deputy head. It’s a wonderful school to work in.
Could you tell us a bit about your school?
St Matthew’s is a 2 form entry CoE school in Tunbridge Wells. We have a larger than average percentage of pupils on free school meals, and our children come from diverse, and sometimes difficult backgrounds. The spread of academic ability is very wide, which presents us with a challenge. It takes a lot of skillful teaching to ensure that every child has their needs met, but it’s something that we really pride ourselves on being good at.
I think that the best thing you can do for pupil premium children is to ensure that the quality of teaching is continuously improving. CPD plays a very important part in this. Most of it is done in house rather than externally, as we want to tailor it to the needs of the school. We’re always on the search for good practice and I think it’s important to acknowledge that there are other schools with a similar profile to ours which have come up against the same challenges that we’re facing and tackled them effectively. We’re lucky enough to have an incredibly high quality of teaching staff in the school, many of whom lead the CPD sessions to ensure that knowledge is shared effectively.
We have also recently partnered with a school in Plumstead, which has a very similar catchment and background to ours. The partnership enables us to do a lot of skill-sharing. Pupils from their school visit ours, and vice versa, to give them the chance to mix with other children. We’re also part of a local collaborative trust which enables the teachers to frequently mix, and the senior leadership teams are also able to share good practice.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I love the fact that the role is really varied and you can never guarantee what the day is going to present. I have to think on my feet very quickly. On most days, I get in at 7.30 and have meetings with teachers, parents and pupils.
This week, I spent Monday and Tuesday becoming a Mental Health First Aider in order to ensure that I’m well equipped to deal with some of the issues that the pupils in the school and their families are facing. My role is much more pastoral than it ever was when I was teaching.
What’s the biggest challenge you face personally in the role? How do you tackle this?
Curriculum development is the biggest challenge that the school has. The SATs results for year six over the past few years have fallen slightly behind the national average. The DfE now looks at SATs results as a combined figure, which puts a lot of pressure on the school to deliver on the core subjects, and at the same time to ensure that the whole curriculum is being taught in a broad and interesting way.
We’ve taken a lot of measures to address the above concerns. One of the major areas that we’re working on is reading – we’re now a Power of Reading School. This is a philosophy that around every subject area, you have to develop a love of reading which will, in turn, help pupils to develop a love of learning. The method involves using core texts as the basis of your lesson planning, and it is important that this is done across subjects, so that children can see a common thread.
In Year 2 for example, the children have read ‘The Jolly Postman’. They’ve then gone on to learn about local geography through the theme of the postman’s journey; in history they’ve learnt about the development of the post and they’ve made further tie-ins with other parts of the curriculum. These Power of Reading methods work from reception all the way up to Year 6.
What changes have you seen in your school since you started in your role?
One of the biggest changes has been an improvement in our communication with parents. When I first arrived, this was an area that needed work. I introduced Class Dojo to the school, which is a classroom communication app used to share reports between parents and teachers. Teachers track student behaviour and upload photos or videos. Every time a child is praised, the parent gets a notification on their phone. There’s a way of sending parents group notes on what is happening in class too.
What is your work-life balance like? How do you make sure you have time for yourself and what are your interests outside of school?
I’ve always had to be very strict with myself when it comes to my work-life balance. I was advised early on in my career that I have to set my parameters, otherwise I would struggle. My usual working day is 7.30am – 5.45pm in school. Then I go home, relax and be with family. I may do a few more emails at around 8pm for an hour or so. At weekends, I work on Sunday mornings, but I make sure that I’m free on Saturdays and Sunday afternoon. I’m getting better at being able to manage my work, but it does take a lot of practice and is dependent on the time of year and what’s going on in school.
How are you helping staff to manage workload and stay motivated?
As a leadership team, we make sure that we’re very present. We check in with teachers every morning and then again at the end of the day. We have an open door policy. Unless there is something confidential, we ensure that staff always feel like they can come in and chat to us.
In terms of helping staff to manage their workload, we always try to encourage them to be honest if they need a bit of support or a bit of extra time to do something. We don’t expect planning to be presented in any particular format, and we have a marking policy that only involves one piece of deep marking a week – the rest is on a tick basis.
What’s your relationship with technology like? Do you have any innovative technology that you use either in the classroom, or among the leadership team?
We all use iPads, and we make particularly good use of an app called Accelerated Reader, which we find hugely beneficial to learning. The aim is for pupils to log in, take a test and get a ZPD (zone of proximal development) score, which is essentially their reading level. The app then gives them a range of books that they can read at this level. When they finish a book, they can take a comprehension test which will give them a score out of 5 or 10. For teachers, the app is particularly useful in enabling them to get a long-term indication of development and progress.
The app also records how many words you’ve read. When pupils read a million words, we hold a ‘millionaire’s tea party’ for them, which takes place in the library with the headteacher and literacy coordinator, as well as the other ‘millionaires’.
What gives you the confidence to take tough decisions and the motivation to keep going?
I really enjoy my job, and I feel very lucky knowing that I have an important role to play in children’s lives. I love seeing pupils succeed. I know I’ve done a good job when I’ve enabled a child who’s really struggling to access the curriculum and to make progress. We have a wide variety of families at the school, and some of them need more support from us. I know that we have to look after the whole child in order to help them succeed in life.