“Our hope for our children this year is to get back into school and in a positive way.”
At the start of this new academic year, Tom Parkin, Headteacher at South Molton Community Primary School shares some of his thoughts.
In post for the past ten years, Tom finds the school a happy and rewarding place to work that fits well with his ideals as a leader.
With the school’s mantra of Excellence Through Outdoor Learning, there is a clear and intentional focus on nature, which happily spells out the school’s values of Nurturing, Aspiring, Together, Understanding, Resilience and Equal.
Demonstrating this commitment, the pupils and staff are especially proud of their recent award of the Eco-Schools Green Flag, in which they achieved the highest level of distinction.
1. As Headteacher, what are your hopes for the new academic year at South Molton Community Primary School?
At the start of this brand-new academic year, it obviously brings lots of aspirations and enthusiasm for us at South Molton Community Primary School and builds on our continuing progress.
The personal development side of our school is something that we really want to continue developing as well this year, and that we would like to embed into our curriculum; rather than as an extra. A vital part of this development includes outdoor learning, the extra-curricular trips and all that side of learning that we feel could be embedded further into our curriculum.
This is a target for us this year, as well as developing our well-rounded curriculum and giving subject integrity and quality across the curriculum.
2. How would your pupils describe their school?
Obviously, we talk to children a lot; which I hope gives a good flavour of what they actually think about their school.
I think the number one thing is that they think we are a caring school who takes their personal development seriously and that we want them to experience a wide-ranging curriculum that is not only focused on the core subjects, but considers the whole child. We have been engaging in our outdoor work over the last five or six years, and developing that connection to nature and outdoor learning and how this connection is important for positive mental well-being for children and staff.
I know our children would also talk enthusiastically about our environmental learning and improving the sustainability of our school. They would tell you about the sustainable journey we have been on and how we have improved our school over time.
So, I would say a caring school that takes sustainability seriously and has a connection to nature.
3. What three things (or people!) would make a significant difference for your school improvement journey?
Firstly, and I am very aware that this is something we need to improve as a school and looking to the future, is to think about joining a Multi Academy Trust, which we could take into our own hands and evolve to the next stage.
Whilst we have some collaboration with other schools, this year, we would like to enhance and encourage this collaboration so that it has a positive impact on what we deliver to the children and is an action that we can control.
Secondly, and perhaps less within our control to help us our school, is money. Extra resources and extra money would help the school to deliver more; especially with the current SEN agenda, and meeting the needs of increasing numbers of SEN children.
And thirdly, which I suppose is an age-old problem for the teaching profession, is having more time.
As a profession, I think we are always trying to do our best and aspiring to do better for the children - sometimes to our fault.
I know that we might not be able to solve this one very easily, but we could certainly do with more time so that we can do better for the children.
4. What is the biggest challenge for you as a school leader?
I think the biggest challenge for the last few years is trying to be as inclusive as possible as a school, whilst still achieving high standards for children. The needs of children have changed over the past years, especially since Covid and the lockdown.
We have seen a massive change in the level of need and the number of children with high level SEN needs, which we are still dealing with and are expected to deal with in a maintained school. This brings lots of challenges for other children, and for those specific SEN children and staff supporting them.
I think this issue has become more pronounced in our school and the impact on the wider school.
I have found it to be particularly challenging when seeking to deliver excellence across the curriculum and whilst still trying to be an inclusive school that gives every child what they need. Unfortunately, I envisage this to continue to be a challenge over the coming years.
5. How does working with SWIFT support your work?
There are a variety of ways.
Obviously, meetings and conferences are probably where I liaise mostly with colleagues, and this provides me with opportunity for collaboration.
I enjoy and value this opportunity and I find the meetings and talks with specific people useful. For example, we have been using the Walkthru coaching training for the last few years, which has had a positive impact on our school and teaching across the school and professional development of our teachers.
Also, as a leader, the training and networking opportunities help me to think about how I am as a leader and what I do.
It was thought-provoking for me to be part of the leadership visit to London in the Summer Term and this gave me an insight into other schools and gave me a lot to think about and to bring back to my own school.
I am looking forward to this new year and the opportunities for myself and our staff with SWIFT.
We thank Tom for sharing his reflections and wish him and his staff and pupils at South Molton Community Primary School a happy and fulfilling year.
Interview by Jude Owens, PA to the Executive Team and Governance