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Articles

A Year in the Life of James Berry

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A year is quite a long stretch of time; seasons have been and gone, everyone is older and wiser and yet it feels like 5 minutes since we first interviewed Mr James Berry as the new Head at the Lea Primary School. Mr Berry invited Mum’s guide to Harpenden back to his thriving community to speak about the success and achievements of this past year.

The Lea motto is Learn, Enjoy, Achieve.  So, in the past year…

What have you Learnt?

I definitely learned a lot about myself in terms of how I manage people.  I was Deputy Head before and moving to a Head I had underestimated what a huge jump it was. It’s a big responsibility suddenly on your shoulders. I’ve really loved it, but what I’ve really learned is that it's not just about making our school successful, which it has been, it’s about empowering and getting absolutely everybody on board, so not just the teachers in the classroom, but the whole community.  We’ve had a huge drive for parent volunteers. Leading up to sports tournaments last year, in order to help the children prepare to take part, we asked if mums and dads could come in at lunchtimes and run extra sessions, and it snowballed.  At one point there was a rota of dads who were coming in every lunchtime! Getting everyone together was the key last year.

I learned a lot about Harpenden.  It’s an interesting town - it’s quite a competitive place!

What have you Enjoyed?

I think I enjoyed getting to the end of year and being able to look back and reflect on all the changes that we’d made, and seeing what the Year 6s achieved was amazing.  I was so proud of them - they just had the right attitude.  They did amazingly in the SATs - we got 100% pass in reading and in maths.  It’s not all about that, but it does help.  The results were the best the school has ever had and to do as well as we did really surpassed expectations.

And what have you achieved?

Well, I’m into my second year and I think I know what I’m doing now!  Obviously the SATs results were an absolutely huge success for the school.  I think what really pleased me as an achievement was getting all the staff on-board with what we wanted to do with the school.  Often you hear when a new headteacher comes in there’s that domino effect of staff who leave and things change.  We’ve had one teacher who left because circumstances changed, so we have the same staff this year which made September a much easier month to start with.

You said last year that you were keen to be in the classroom to get to know how the children learned, and discover their personalities. Did you manage to do that?

I did do a lot of teaching last year and that was great because it just means that you know the children really well and they know you. When you become a Head it’s very easy to lose sight of what teachers do in the classroom. A big part of what we do is look after our teachers and their well-being because it’s a tough job. So getting in the classroom helps to keep me on the level, so I’m never going to ask them to do something that I would never do.

You had a bit of an aversion to glitter last time we met, have you managed to continue to avoid it?

There were a couple of Christmas incidents, and being Headteacher I have things like this which end up in my office [shows us some posters and artwork made by the children] which are quite glitter-heavy! But having so many years of being a KS2 teacher, what I’ve really enjoyed is spending more time in the early years and nursery. It’s really fun in there. It's also helped me. We’ve flipped our interventions on their head - we’re putting a lot more into the bottom of the school because that’s where it makes the biggest difference.

Last year, when asked, your staff described you as “approachable, driven, enthusiastic, resourceful, collaborative and fiercely competitive with himself to make things happen”. What 3 words would your staff use to describe you now that you’ve been here a year?

I think they’d say competitive and driven still.  I’d like to think they’d say positive.

What’s been your highlight of the past year?

Just seeing how far we’ve come. 

What is your priority for the forthcoming year?

We’ve launched a new set of values for the school.  We have "Learn Enjoy Achieve". I see that as the school ethos – to be able to learn you need to be able to enjoy yourself and achievement will come from that.  That’s the ethos that drives us, but we didn’t really have a set of values. As a vision we are saying that we want to be at the forefront of education.  We want to be leading the way in the local area in terms of the way we teach, trying out new things, and show what we are doing.  In the summer term I taught a lesson to the year 6 children with 40 headteachers watching in the hall!  And then sitting behind that we’ve set up 4 values, which are just key characteristics that we want to instil in the children: Pride - in who you are and where you come from;  Respect - for each other and ourselves; Kindness - we absolutely want our children to be leaving as kind people; and Ambition.

The things I wanted to focus on when I came here were the academics, the sport and the children’s well-being. It’s important to me that the children get a lot of satisfaction from doing well.  We’re having an even bigger push on the sports and we’re looking at what we can offer in the arts.  I’ve always had sport in my life; it’s hugely important.  We’ve got a sports coach and we’ve revamped all the clubs that we have at the school. We have violin, piano and we’ve just started private singing tuition. School hours are not good for working parents so, we have a much bigger package for the wraparound care because parents need it.  These are things that I didn’t appreciate until I became a parent. 

In the background we’re  always reflecting on what we are doing in the classroom making sure that our teaching is right, because that’s the important thing, we never let that drop. Then alongside that we're continuing to make sure we’re really thinking about mental health and well-being. For us, it’s an important element of what we do because we’re finding there’s beginning to be a change in children’s needs. Society is changing and there are so many more demands on our children so it’s tough. Well-being was what the school did really well anyway and I thought ‘we need to hold on to that’ but there’s no reason why we can’t have the children being incredibly successful academically, and sporting and do the whole package because if we don’t believe that we can do that then we’re in the wrong job really. 

If you are interested in visiting the Lea School to find out more the school's Open Days are:

Reception Admissions:

Wednesday 6th November 2019, 9.15am
Wednesday 27th November 2019, 9.15am

Nursery Admissions:

Wednesday 26th February 2020, 9.15am

Visit the school website to book.
www.lea-pri.herts.sch.uk


 

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