School Focus: 'We get excited about teaching and learning' says new Brimington headteacher as she welcomes pupils back to class
Children are finally back in the classrooms and corridors at Henry Bradley Nursery and Infant School - and the new headteacher couldn’t be happier.
Due to lockdown restrictions, Tracy O’Malley was unable to meet the majority of her pupils having joined as headteacher in January when the rules were put in place.
It meant that many of those initial relationships with parents had to be formed over the phone or through Class Dojo, an online classroom communication tool, for the children.
All schools, however, were able to fully reopen on March 8 – and Mrs O’Malley has since been busy getting to know the whole school community and says she has been wowed by the resilience of her pupils even in the midst of a pandemic.
She said: "We actually get excited here when we talk about teaching and learning. It’s nice to get back to what we all trained for.
"And, it's really demonstrated how resilient our children are and I'm so proud of each and every one of them.
“The way that they have come back in and returned to school - it is different but I just think they've all come in so sensibly and taken it all in their stride, it's lovely to see.
"And, it’s been great to actually see a sea of children, rather than just a few, and also to get to know them. I knew a lot of names but I didn’t know faces and it’s been lovely to speak to parents that I’ve had quite a lot to do with over the phone or message and actually get to see them face-to-face.”
And, it is those relationships formed during lockdown that have helped create a solid foundation to move forward, as Mrs O’Malley explained.
“For me relationships are everything and, although it’s been difficult as it’s not been face-to-face, I’ve made sure that it’s me doing some phone calls and I’ve made sure I’m out there speaking to parents. I’ve done that from us opening because I want people to understand that that’s what it is all about,” she said.
"There’s some absolutely fabulous staff around me and the parents I’ve spoken to say they have been supported – that’s all I ask for.
"And the best thing, I think, about an infant school is that you are able to provide a nurturing, friendly, and a family-type environment for the children because they have to spend so much time here.”
At the Brimington school, there is a core focus around achievement and supporting children to ‘reach for the stars’ in order to reach their full potential in whatever they do.
Mrs O’Malley said this ethos had already been in place before she joined but is one that she hopes to build on as she works to bring about some changes at the school.
She said: "It’s very much about the ‘reach for the stars’ mission statement which is something I’ve used throughout my career, trying to build on those aspirations for children and making them really believe or trying to instil in them that they can be whatever they would like to be.
"They can dream big and it doesn’t matter where you come from, whether it’s a little place in Chesterfield or wherever, that they can do that. That was one of the big points for me when I started to look round the school and do my research.”
She added: “Now really it’s about getting our children back and getting them happy to be in school. I truly believe that if they’re enjoying it and they’ve got those experiences then they’ll be happy and will be able to move on academically.”
In their bubbles, children will now be exposed to an array of first hand experiences – particularly around active learning – and teachers will be making the most of the school grounds for exercise and education in order to boost their mental and physical wellbeing.
To support this, the school is planning to renovate its playground and outdoor space in the hope of encouraging the pupils to find that joy in being outside.
Elsewhere, another key focus is around keeping a community feel within the school, even though children of different ages and those in different classes cannot currently mix due to current Covid guidelines.
Mrs O’Malley said: “One of the big things is working together as far as we can. So I’ve started assemblies, they’re virtual obviously but it’s just to enable them to see each other.
"We’re such a close knit community but I know a Reception child said the other day ‘oh there’s big children there’ and normally they’re a really big part in supporting the younger children but they’re not able to.
"The assemblies are just so they can see each other and interact with each other to support that community feel.
"For us that belonging is so important for a child’s sense of identity, that stability and that wellbeing – it’s trying to do that in any way that we possibly can.
"A lot of the work I’m doing is about that social interaction – to give children as many activities, learning tasks, or whatever you want to call them, that encourage collaboration and cooperation because that’s the thing that quite a lot of them have missed.”
As for the future, Mrs O’Malley hopes that all classes will soon be full and that the nursery will begin to thrive following the introduction of the 30 hours free childcare provision this September.
She also wants to make sure Henry Bradley is a school of choice, in which children are given the best experience possible through an exciting and engaging curriculum which allows them to learn while gaining the essential knowledge needed to prepare them for their future success.