Principal’s Last Word – Summer Term 2021

At the close of our Academic Year, 2020-2021, whether in-school or via remote broadcasting, we have been able to celebrate the high points  (where such language is appropriate during a pandemic!) and contributions of our school, its pupils and teachers alike. In writing to bring this strangest of school years to a close, I do so with my colleagues in the faculty first and foremost to mind. 

Claires Court is an incredibly settled workplace, in part because your children make every day worthwhile working, and in part because as a school philosophy, we aim to place children at the heart of everything, which brings their joy to mind because of that clear focus we must have. Opportunities for further staff development is also one of the core values for colleagues working here, whether that of the mundane kind to gather workplace skills and qualifications to do the job at hand, or of the more far reaching kind leading to graduation, qualified teacher status, Advanced diplomas and Masters beyond, and we are proud to have supported 19 colleagues over the past 12 months. The contribution that such trainees make along the way could not be better exemplified than by Poonam Bharj, George Grose, Emily Pridham or Jess Hurter, completing first degrees, and their subsequent PGCEs etc whilst working at Claires Court, now making a huge impact as front line teachers in the school.

Head of Senior Boys Art, Frances Ackland Snow completed her Advanced Diploma in Therapeutic Application of the Arts and Huw Buckle,  Deputy Head Careers & Innovation fittingly completed his Masters in Education in good time, enabling his next career step into Pastoral Leadership in September. 

In bidding farewell to our staff who leave Claires Court this summer, for some we wish them well in their future careers elsewhere and to others we wish them our very best wishes for the choices they’ve made to retire from teaching. There are 3 standout names to celebrate across the school community, because of their length of service with us across the organisation, because of the support they have given to literally thousands of children in their time with us and because of the impact they have had on the wider school community because of their support for what we love and cherish as a family school. 

First honours go to our Head of Common Room, Mike Miller, who joined the school as a parent back in 1989, and then became our Head of Business Studies through the 90’s prior to the corporate world taking him to South Africa for 3 years before making his return back into post. Not only did that see his wife Liz join our nursery team, but it gave us son Gareth back, initially as student, and then after higher education and employment elsewhere as teacher and now of course Head of Year 7. That sense of family is completed when I record that Gareth’s sister Michelle Coghlan is a leading member of our science faculty and both sets of grandchildren (for Mike that is) are now pupils in the school. Mike’s ongoing links to the Business world as Chair of the Maidenhead and District Chamber of Commerce continue to be of huge value, and we wish Mike and Liz every happiness in their retirement, well deserved after the 32 years they have given to Claires Court.

Departing also into retirement at Junior Boys is Judy Knott, Deputy Head Junior Boys and great support for Dean Richards as Head as well as for the staff and pupils more generally of course. No more fitting epitaph for Mrs Knott written in recent weeks than this by Justin Spanswick, our Executive headteacher. “…a huge thank you to my former Deputy Head and wonderful friend, Mrs Judy Nott. When I moved into Headship at Junior Boys, she was the one who kept me on the straight and narrow, and she ran the school while I learned what I was meant to be doing!” 

Whilst my wife, Jenny will never be able to retire completely whilst I am still at work, she steps down from leading our History department after first picking up the mantle in 1981. Working with Jenny over that 40 year period I have seen the subject flourish and lead our ‘hands-on’ education philosophy all the way through. The department’s legendary residentials, including through the 1990s to Washington and Williamsburg, Virginia, to Berlin more recently, to Ironbridge and Shropshire for the Industrial Revolution and for the past 20 years to the Ypres Salient for GCSE studies, have all given great opportunities to students. A hallmark of her imaginative planning included the use of museums to enrich teaching and learning, from Slavery through the Industrial Revolution to the Cold War and whilst Victorian crime was on the syllabus, Friday night time ‘Jack the Ripper’ walks were perhaps the highlight trip never to be forgotten! 

Our other colleagues departing into well deserved retirement are Liz Robinson (English – 20 years) and Sue Lattimer (French – 16 years), 2 other great teachers of the school whose impact at Senior Girls and in Sixth Form over 2 decades was equally impressive and valuable for those they taught. Of those leaving for  pastures new in September, I particularly commend Charlie Bretherton, currently deputy head pastoral to become Headteacher of Hillview International, a senior school in Malawi, To our other fabulous colleagues, Will Ansell (Sciences), Georgie Carter (PE), George Grose (Juniors), Katie Morgan (Juniors), Dorelle Scott (Maths), Philly Shelley-Smith (Art) and Clive Young (Physics) who are departing for new continents, new challenges and opportunities, we wish you the very best of fortunes ahead.

I am now able to take a break for 2 weeks before the announcement of 2021 A Level and GCSE results. Unlike last year when all was left to the last minute, I am delighted to report that our exam evidence has been scrutinised by the Exam boards, our sites visited by JCQ and results as provided to the boards back in June have been approved. Hopefully that will mean results days (digitally by email and portal) on Tuesday 10 August and Thursday 12 August will run smoothly, and once that work of 2020/21 is complete, I can begin to look forward to the academic year ahead where perhaps the landscape won’t be utterly riven by Covid-19. Builders, decorators and electricians have already moved in on all three sites, our planning team continue to work on our new campus and playing field proposals, of which we will surface further thoughts and developments in the autumn. 

In the meantime, thank you for all of your good wishes and kind thoughts. We cannot remotely have achieved everything for everyone this last 12 months, but wherever located, my colleagues and their teams have continued to work with great respect and integrity, and your support has been incredible throughout. Whether you are able to get away, be that Costa Maidenhead or on holiday elsewhere, have a good one and #staysafe.

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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