Head Teacher's Pet Projects!
13th September 2017
When Roxanne Taylor became head of a large Catholic primary school last September, she could have been forgiven for hoping to ease her way into the role. As with the best-laid plans, however, things didn’t quite work out that way. One year on at St Paulinus' School, Dewsbury, Roxanne can look back on an Ofsted inspection, Diocesan RE inspection, the creation of a school farm and the small matter of planning her own wedding.
Barely two months into her headship came the 'phone call with news that sets every head teacher’s nerves jangling - an Ofsted inspection was imminent.
‘I felt a lot of pressure because the inspection focussed on my leadership and management,’ said Roxanne. ‘I had to demonstrate that as a new head I was leading the school in the right direction and that my leadership was sound. I was so relieved that the verdict was ‘good’; I felt very proud of the children and all the staff.’
Then in June came the Section 48 inspection by the Diocese of Leeds into the Catholic life of the school and religious education.
‘I think I felt even more nervous for this inspection because it looks at the head as a faith leader and whether they are living the mission of our faith.’
The fact that Roxanne is a former pupil of the school – she left in 1995 – may have been an added reason for her feeling under pressure.
‘I was aware that I was following in the footsteps of an excellent head, Roxanna Drake, who retired last year, and also Margaret Baker, who was head when I was a pupil here. To be entrusted with the role of guiding children along their journey in faith is both an honour and a responsibility.’
But again Roxanne had reason to be delighted with the verdict, and St Paulinus remains an ‘outstanding’ Catholic school. The inspection report notes:
‘This school inspires all within this faith community to live life to the full, learn to the very best of their ability and to love in the image of Our Blessed Lord.’
Also commended is the fact that ‘all pupils are nurtured and cherished by all members of the school community, thus putting the school’s newly formed mission of "Inspiring all to live, learn and love in the light of Jesus" into practice.’
Despite a very busy year Roxanne could not dismiss a ‘crazy’ idea that had taken hold – to create a school farm.
‘I had researched the subject and become increasingly interested in the positive influence that animals have on children,’ she said. ‘A lot of children don’t have the experience of being around animals, of learning to care for and nurture them. It’s an experience that helps to develop empathy, and the calming benefits of stroking animals are well known. Being around animals is particularly beneficial for children with special needs, particularly those with autism, who normally struggle with communication. And of course there’s no ‘expected standard’ to meet. Children feel they can just be themselves.’
So it was only a matter of time before pupils were helping three goats, ten chickens and two French lop-eared rabbits to settle into their purpose-built homes in the school grounds. The pupils chose the name Noah’s Ark for the farm and also named the animals. The goats are Socks (who has black lower legs so looks as though he is wearing socks) and Peter and Paul. Pupils are looking forward to the chickens laying eggs, which can then be sold to parents.
‘The children are already seeing relationships develop between themselves and the animals,’ said Roxanne. ‘I think they are amazed to see that animals have different personalities just like we do.’
Before going ahead with the farm Roxanne had looked in depth at health and safety issues and carried out the necessary risk assessments. She has also employed a farm hand, 'Farmer Geoff' - a retired parishioner who has experience of livestock - to look after the animals.
Roxanne had been the school’s deputy head for three years before becoming head. She took over from Mrs Drake, who had spent the last 20 years in the post. Stepping up from deputy to head has brought new challenges, such as tackling the logistics of the upkeep of the building, and a huge increase in the volume of paperwork. One of the greatest challenges Roxanne feels she faces is working with vulnerable families.
‘I find myself constantly wondering how we can best support them,’ she says. ‘It’s an absorbing job, and switching off can be difficult. That’s definitely one of my personal targets for next term. I might be spending a lot of time stroking the goats! In a lot of ways it’s been the toughest year of my life, but also the most rewarding.’
In August Roxanne married Louis d’Arcy, who is deputy head at Bradford Grammar School.
‘It’s helpful that we both work in education as we’re able to bounce ideas off each other, but there are times when we have to agree to stop talking about school and checking work emails.’
Pupils will be delighted to learn that their head’s hopes for the school’s future include even more animals – a class pet for each class and perhaps even a school dog. She is also researching the subject of ‘reading dogs’ – how certain dogs can be trained in the manner of guide dogs to help children struggling to learn to read.
‘I’ve told staff to watch out for zebras and giraffes next,’ she laughed. (Note to pupils – she’s joking!)
After such an eventful first year as head, is there a danger that the new Mrs d’Arcy might find life next term a little dull?
‘That will never happen; there’s always something happening in school!’