Hazel Gommersall, Headteacher 1995-2008

St. Kenelm's C.E. Primary School, Romsley
Centenary Celebrations
1915 – 2015

Memories of Mrs Hazel Gommersall - Headteacher - 1995 - 2008

 

I was headteacher at St Kenelm's from January 1995 to July 2008 and over that period met enormous and fundamental changes in education, both nationally and locally. It was an exciting, but very challenging time. When reflecting on those thirteen and a half years I have identified three major developments which dramatically changed the life and work of this school community.

Firstly; Ofsted inspections; before I arrived a small handful of schools had been inspected and we were learning about the rigour expected of this new framework for inspection which followed on from the introduction of "The National Curriculum". All schools would have one within the next five years. During my first few weeks at St. Kenelm's I had the dreaded letter informing me they would be coming to inspect in September 1995! I promptly informed them there must be some mistake as I was a newly appointed head, and their visit must be moved forward. How naïve I was. You could not use any reason to delay an Ofsted. Somehow I managed to delay things until January 1996 which was just as bad, following Christmas and my first Winter at the top of this hill!

We were four teaching staff, each managing several subjects. There were no teaching assistants and I was teaching 3.5 days per week upstairs away from the offices! Gill Tandy, Ann Sutherland and I had to be very fit indeed. On Monday 15th January at 07.30 three inspectors arrived from various parts of the country to spend most of the week with us. We even had to clear a space for them to work in the old kitchen, perusing children's work and reading school policies in between lesson observations and interviews.

The feedback meeting in February was perfect sitcom material! There was now plenty of snow everywhere and freezing temperatures. The inspectors returned, having driven from Southampton and Guildford and our meeting began around 2.30pm to read through the 45 page draft report. Since the inspection I had developed a shoulder injury and Denise Finnie, the deputy head, had been off school due to a varicose vein operation. Very nobly her husband drove her to school to attend the meeting to give her input about any" factual errors". At about 4pm there was a power cut so eventually we had to bring on the candles which soon burnt down, where upon Ray Tandy, our caretaker, rustled up more. He had been informed the power would probably be restored by 6 to 6.30pm. The inspectors doggedly continued to read on, whilst by this time governors were phoning to ask if the evening meeting was cancelled due to the extensive power cut in the village and the very icy conditions! The reply had to be that this was Ofsted feedback with inspectors from 180 miles away! Cancelling was not an option! As advised, we eventually had light and were able to meet with governors and inspectors at 7pm. At about 9pm the inspectors left to find that their cars had been damaged whilst parked in the playground. Everyone rushed to see if their cars were ok, leaving Denise and I thinking "thank goodness we can't drive at the moment!"

We were more prepared for the next FOUR Ofsteds and found most inspectors a little more humane and understanding, but all school developments tended to be made in terms of what Ofsted would say about them. We learnt the rules of the game. One year I even attended Beauvoir Castle as the school was presented with an award for one of the best Ofsted inspection reports in Worcestershire! Quite an achievement!

Secondly: the reorganisation to a two tier system of education within the Haybridge pyramid of schools created enormous challenges and also opportunities. From around 2002 there were murmurings that Hagley Middle School should close and all the First schools become Primary Schools thus having two more year groups within school and children transferring directly to Haybridge at the age of 11. This had already been done in the nearby small Waseley pyramid, so why not here! There were many, many meetings of consultation at all levels about such a major change, but it was quite clear it was going to happen. During this time we lost a number of children whose parents felt that their children needed to be in a larger school in years 5 and 6. They moved them to Hagley Primary as they understandably felt that the many after school activities such as music, team games etc could not easily be delivered with only one more teacher being appointed here at St Kenelm's. Worcestershire Education Authority repeatedly told parents this would be all the extra staff the school could provide. I was fairly certain that we would soon have 2 more staff, but initially, with only one extra year group there could be no immediate guarantees. The Authority wanted to keep the school small with very difficult mixes of age groups in a class, and within the new Ofsted rigours, and pressures of attainment targets. With experience now on my side, we managed to weather this storm, appointing excellent teaching and non-teaching staff with a wealth of expertise across the whole curriculum.

The architect meetings and building work went on and on. The Spring and Summer of 2004 was very chaotic around school with the field and parts of the playground a building site. Temporary classrooms were set up whilst work continued. Reverend Georgina Byrne was installed as vicar during this time and was quite shocked at how staff and children were having to cope. With the help of governors I had to keep a very close eye on things over the summer holiday to ensure there would be a classroom for each class in September, and everyone in a safe environment. My son was married during that August too! I had lost weight, and I had difficulty convincing people that it was not deliberately done for their wedding!
Gradually, we increased in pupil numbers and staff as we became fully Primary by 2005. We managed to organise many new activities and after school clubs. The school's success was very evident as year groups became full and we had waiting lists begin to form. But yet again there was no breathing space before the next Ofsted call even before our first Year 6's had completed SATs!

Thirdly, and very briefly, changes in ICT over these 13 years were quite unbelievable as in most organisations, but this really did put great pressure and stress on us all. When I arrived we were sharing a computer between classes upstairs. Eventually even Reception and all the other classes had one or two. There was constant change, new hubs, installation of new software, laptops for staff, policy writing and ultimately interactive whiteboards in all classrooms. Financing all this technology was a constant juggling act with bids for funding etc. All so time consuming for the ICT coordinator and myself. Part of this involved many hours of whole staff training. One memory which will never be erased is walking downstairs at 6pm following 2.5 hours of ICT training to find our Caretaker, Roger, with the TV on in the staffroom. This was our first knowledge of the Twin Towers' disaster in New York. I bump into Jane, who led that training and it is imprinted on her memory too. Getting to grips with all this new technology really did feel overwhelming at times. Office staff were also trying to cope with rapid developments in their area. Far too fast for the brain to cope with and the available time to practise the various, and many procedures. Finally in 2007 a computer room was built on the upper floor after long hours of negotiating and saving for it. Another summer holiday spent checking on progress to ensure the upstairs classrooms could be accessed in September.

I retired in July 2008 leaving a vibrant. high performing school with an excellent team of teaching and non teaching staff. There were now seven classes and seven year groups, all with some part time teaching assistant support and with about 175 children compared to the 90 in 1995.
The school, and whole community, became a massive part of my life during these years. It is a truly wonderful place to be.

Hazel Gommersall May 2015

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