Dear Lovely St John’s Parents & Carers,
I must start by thanking you all for your hugely generous gift, the amazing personalised and beautiful fire pit – I couldn’t love it more. I will send photos of a relaxed summer evening in my garden with the firepit lit at the centre. I think it is going to glow beautifully. The school emblem, the children playing and listening to stories, the natural world all depicted make it so special. Thank you all.
The messages in cards and emails you’ve sent have been overwhelming, you’re all so kind and flattering in your praise for the school and for my part in its success. Thank you, all I can say is that it has been an honour and a privilege to be a part of something so exceptional and I leave with the very best of memories and love for this dear school and all its people.
How can we have reached today? I think I’ve been in denial and now the fact is that my time here at lovely St John’s is over.
Below is a transcript of the speech I gave yesterday:
I was blessed with loving supportive and guiding parents who continued to love, support and guide us into their 90s. Once when I was rather pleased with myself when we’d moved to our super old house, my mother, in her inimitable style, pointed out we are all simply guardians of property until we hand that over to the next and reminded me therefore to love it, look after it and leave it in good condition for the next. Well Mum, I think it’s the same with a school and it’s been the biggest pleasure being a custodian of St John’s.
Before I go, and most importantly, I want to deflect the attention from me and to acknowledge and celebrate the team that is St John’s.
In 2009 I undertook my biggest challenge in my teaching career when I was signed up to a year at St John’s. From September 2009 until January I was literally marking off the days and thinking longingly of the cosy successful primary school I’d left that felt like home, just 15 minutes’ walk from our house. Then began the change, the change for this school and a big change for me. I was excited at the improvements that I could see we were making and I was keen to get going properly.
St John’s was, in 2009, a failing school with falling role, there were at that time just 58 pupils. So began a turnaround…
We had to change the public perception and build in our pupils and families a belief in self-worth and aspiration. I had to challenge a group of disaffected staff and build anew with shared vision and, fundamentally, strong teaching skills.
So now to look at the people who are here providing the very best for St John’s children right now.
We have a governing body that understand the need to challenge and support in just the right balance, when to delve into school practice and when to leave well alone! I know how fortunate I’ve been to have this backing, and not least from our phenomenally talented, compassionate and reliable chair of governors, Fr Robin.
The parent body, a wonderful bunch of people who entrust their children to us, they are a group of people full of energy, great ideas and ready to back the teachers with their children’s learning. Many families I’ve grown to think of as friends and whom I’ll miss very much and hope to see again in the future.
We are truly blessed with the body of teaching assistants and support staff at St John’s – I defy any school claiming a more skilled and dedicated band of experienced people, passionate about individual pupils, depended upon and loved by their class teachers. These people are pivotal to the well-being and learning of pupils and to the smooth running of any day in school. Their skill set is exceptional and their ‘can do’ attitude means the world. Support staff, I salute you and your efforts, daily, week in week out.
The office – enter at your peril, this is the engine room where the real business gets done, fielding the phones, sorting the school, delivering forgotten items, ordering, communicating, generally keeping the ship afloat – my thanks to Amanda, to Emma, to Julie and to Theresa.
Then, on to the teaching staff –
In September 2010 Sophie and Mandy Barrow joined the team. Sophie came on teaching practice in a mixed class of just 14 Year 2s and 3s, many of whom couldn’t read and some didn’t turn up when it rained or when Swanley market was on. Sophie was a keeper, she interviewed superbly for the Reception class teacher post. We kept her! Mandy arrived ready to overhaul the teaching of computing and the getting the provision up to speed. Quietly behind the scenes, for years, she has been donating revenue from her websites to St John’s, her exceptional generosity that funded our IT suite and much more.
In January 2012 we really started to make progress when Liddy and Bev both came on side. Liddy brought her exceptional dedication to education, experience and teaching expertise as well as her generosity and passion for the pastoral side of St John’s. You all know what a rock of support she is to you, well she’s been that and more to me from day 1. Bev completed her teaching practice here and we were wise indeed to snap her up when she qualified. A gifted teacher with the most punishing expectations of herself; she makes Year 4 an outstanding place to learn and is a natural and passionate leader – no wonder so many pupils love everything science and technology, they’re offered an exciting diet.
September 2012 was a pivotal moment, as we were asked to take on a double year group. We welcomed this on the understanding we needed a new build. Then at the start of the next academic year Jane G, Judy and Sam got stuck in. Jane inherited a class of Year 5 and 6 who had missed much of their early education and had gaps to fill; Jane was aspirational, driven and determined to make up what gaps were possible …and even some that others would deem impossible. She took on the leadership of maths with her characteristic rigour and has grown a team of teachers and TAs and cohorts of pupils who are skilled and confident and many of whom express that they love maths. Things were transforming.
Judy, inexperienced and hungry to learn was placed in Year 1. Judy is unique, I’ve heard she wonders if Therese will “get her” – well I really hope so or she’ll be missing out on a first rate teacher and the kindest of people. Sam blew me away at her interview, and has continued to do so ever since with her exceptional teaching skills. Children are cherished, provision is exceptional, creative and thorough and children flourish in her care – what a gift she has.
Four months later Sarah Grimble joined the ranks. Her first term here she taught every class, flexibility really must be her middle name! She will never let me forget when, in preparation of the new build, I asked her to load the metal container with the contents of a classroom on one of the hottest days of the summer. She emerged dripping and exhausted but, of course, still smiling. She has at last been allowed to settle and give Year 5’s the happiest of learning while leading English for us all.
A year later we were fortunate to gain Hazel Old for small group maths support. Suffice to say that many, many children now believe they can, who previously thought they couldn’t ‘do maths’ This woman is a genius.
Spanish teaching took off in September 2014 when Senora Hayes joined us. A highly skilled practitioner and instrumental in making our trips to Barcelona and Seville possible.
A year later Danielle Hollands signed up as a TA and then completed her teaching qualification. There is nobody with a greater ‘can do’ spirit surely! An outstanding PE lead, a technical wizard and a person with such generosity, she’s called on and is always willing and cheerful to support others. She works at speed and just gets things done – all would agree she’s an asset to the whole school.
In the autumn of 2017 we added Mhairi Mackelworth, Ed Grobel and Donna Simpson. Mhairi is a superb Year 6 teacher, she loves those children and expertly prepares them to be ready for their next step in education. A great residential trip companion with a balanced and realistic approach to life – she’s a breath of fresh air. Ed offers so much more than being the token male on the staff, he is thorough, efficient and skilled, but not only in teaching. He is THE most competitive in staff quizzing on Friday lunchtimes. Donna joined and showed her quiet and capable approach, she worked as TA with Liddy and soon was recognised as being invaluable. In her stepping up to lead SEND, she has truly excelled. Safe hands and phenomenal tenacity, thank you Donna.
Our latest additions signed up just after the pandemic struck so had to start with the minefield that was early remote learning. Jane Hanna took up teaching music at distance, in April, to children that she had never met, highly successfully. How different was last week and the amazing face to face music for Oliver. Alison Menzies brought years of experience in Reception and established happy and productive remote learning with 4 and 5 year olds half way through their first year in school. We love your skill set Alison and your intuition, your love of children and ability to make their early experience of school so special. What a star Sarah De Ville is, she had impressed everyone on her final teaching practice and continued to do so teaching Lion pod in June last year just days after (or before!) being awarded QTS. This year she had been doing all and more for our lovely Year 1s, lucky children.
And now I have my family to thank. You know that part at the end of a book, the acknowledgement section, where credits are given to all and sundry followed by those nearest to you who have stuck by you whatever. Well that’s where we are now. Our children, Fred, Zo and Gus and their partners, Alice, Tom and Lydia have done so, so much over time to support me at this school. From the early days of cleaning and sorting the school, the loos and the playground to Ofsted work parties, preparation late into the night, the making of resources, even jobs in teaching and learning support and recently the most necessary and appreciated from Zo in her patient and essential technical support. I’m so very grateful to you all. But it’s Piers who’s cheerfully managed late suppers, no suppers, shows, quizzes and school events, he’s made many a nip from Chiddingstone with forgotten items, managed maintenance jobs, made planning appeals, completed countless paperwork jobs and he has endlessly been interested and listened to my musings on the day to day school life, his advice taken or ignored, he’s always been there. Thank you, you’re the best!
And now finally … all heads are faced with challenges, one of mine I suppose has been to remain resolute in my belief that personal development, well-being and an experience-rich childhood are every bit as valuable as academic excellence. League tables, data driven inspections and judgements can shake the most committed. However, we know that this is no dichotomy really, striving for and reaching academic potential grows and flourishes from this very base; an education whose horizon is as broad as possible. The team here buy into this, St John’s is a thriving school with gorgeous pupils from diverse backgrounds– I can’t really think why one would leave, especially when surrounded by this phenomenal team!