Education is all about relationships, says headteacher of Newent Community School, Kirsten Harrison.
She’s soon to be the new head at Chosen Hill in Churchdown.
Mrs Harrison has seen Newent through some challenging years and now she’s about to take another step in the career which has already seen her work in schools in Swindon, Oldham and Leeds.
She was formerly assistant headteacher at Katherine Lady Berkley’s School in Wotton under Edge, before moving to Newent School as deputy headteacher.
She’s an English teacher who combines leadership with continuing to teach in the classroom.
It’s been a challenging journey in recent years. Newent School was in special measures in 2013 and Mrs Harrison then became acting headteacher.
“I was in charge of taking the school forward from special measures and brought in significant changes.”
A year later, February 2014 Newent School came out of ‘special measures’
“In just 12 months we were then ranked ‘good’ across the board. We’ve been on quite a journey,” she said.
Mrs Harrison added that it’s noteworthy that during that turbulent period, Newent staff stuck remained committed to the school and worked hard to transform its results.
“We’ve only had a small turnover of staff.
“They’ve all stepped up to the plate and bought into the plan to transform the school, for the good of the school and the community.”
There was a recognition that changes needed to be made to improve standards, and Mrs Harrison lead a period of restructuring.
“It was about being very clear what children needed to do and what standards were required to get levels of performance up.
“I have always taught in the classroom as well. If I’m going to ask staff to deliver good lessons, I have to be able to do that myself.
“I’m a teaching head and from that point of view that’s given me credibility to go in front of people and asking them to deliver something.”
Simple things have made a difference to achievement at Newent.
Mrs Harrison has changed the pattern of the day from five learning periods to six fifty-minute sessions.
“We’ve brought in balanced curriculum, putting English and Maths at the fore.
“We’ve made the day punchier and harder work. It’s now much more focussed with no lulls.
“The sense of community and the loyalty that children feel to the school is tremendous.
“There is a real sense of belonging.”
The school’s house system is one factor in this, helping to create pride in the school, and a collegiate atmosphere.
“The staff care tremendously about the children, not just their wellbeing but also academic outcomes.”
She said that with results expected imminently from the Y11 mocks, it looks as if the school is on the right track.
“We have done a tremendous amount of work with the youngsters to ensure they do the best they possibly can,” said Mrs Harrison.
The school has also worked hard to improve pastoral care
“If the chilrens’ ‘heads are not in the right place’ the learning is not going to happen.
“Children are facing a more and more challenges and competitive environment. They need the skills to cope and that will enable them to cope with those challenges.”
It’s a fine line to walk; balancing between rigorous academic results, and a broad curriculum with good pastoral care, says Mrs Harrison.
“I think we’ve got it as close as possible to the right balance.”
Being a good teacher said Mrs Harrison is about knowing the children really well.
“You need to tailor the lesson to that group of children, and it’s also about really good quality marking and feed back.
“Put those together and plan well, and those children will start to believe in themselves.
“Children respond to that, they know when you care, teaching is all about relationships.”
She is concerned that the national educational agenda “does not recognise the value of all our children.”
The curriculum is becoming more restrictive and traditional.
“Some of are youngsters are going to be fabulous mechanics or plumbers or electricians. The way the eBac is being introduced seems to be about a purely academic path.”
“The government needs to be more open that there’s a functional aspect to numeracy and literacy and the balance is in danger of being tipped.”
Mrs Harrison, who has a son and daughter, will be leaving Newent Community School in good shape. She used to be in the TA which introduced her to personal fitness and also loves theatre, reading and culture.
She’s exciteed about taking up the headship at Chosen Hill in May.
“I’m really excited about it. There are lots of new challenges. I pride myself on getting to know the school I’m working in really, really well and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”