As we enter a new school year Michael Grahamslaw caught up with Gemma Strong, Headteacher at Newcastle Preparatory School in Jesmond.
Gemma you are now entering your second year as Headteacher at NPS. What have been your highlights over the previous 12 months?
It has certainly been an exciting period that has flown by and we have achieved so much. I suppose it is the nature of leadership that we are constantly evolving and there has certainly never been a dull moment.
To the delight of our children, three guinea pigs – Nibbles, Posie and Spark – joined the team. We added a new fun playground, decorated our own Shaun the Sheep and went social with Instagram. We also enjoyed themed weeks and celebration days, from the Coronation to World Ocean Day, performances from every year group and our annual musical spectacular.
We also continued to enjoy listening to our pupils’ voices at our school council meetings and added an eco-committee for children from Nursery to Year 6. The children quite rightly have a lot of input on what happens in their school.
What are your plans for the new school year ahead?
We have more exciting plans coming up, including the introduction of maths and computing weeks. The Code Show is also visiting NPS which will illustrate the evolution of technology and that promises to be fascinating for the children.
We also intend to further explore the history of the school which since 1885 has been a unique part of our city’s history. This should prove to be an inspiring, hands-on project for children of all ages to be involved in.
How do you engage with parents and the broader school community?
In a multitude of ways from welcoming children at the door every day to always being contactable and adaptable to suit parents’ needs.
Our casual coffee, cake and catch up events are a very popular and less formal way to feel part of our school community.
We also get regularly involved in community events, visiting Jesmond Library and other local organisations.
What is your strategy for balancing academic excellence with the wellbeing of students?
We are very focussed on building a school culture where children are safe and secure which allows them to build trusting relationships and develop, both emotionally and academically. Alongside a range of resources and techniques employed across school such as worry monsters and wellbeing check-ins, we also have a PSED (Personal Social Emotional Development) teacher whose entire role is dedicated to supporting our pupils.
I am supported by three assistant heads who cover academic, pastoral and personalised learning; they give these key areas the additional oversight needed.
At the end of the day, it is the children’s school and we are there to help and improve their wellbeing. We have the firm belief that where children are happy, they will thrive.
Describe your leadership style
I have been lucky to have worked in the school in various roles and now that I am Headteacher, I like to think I encourage a collaborative approach. I trust everyone here to throw in their ideas and skills, so it really is a team effort. I welcome a challenge and my door is always open for dialogue.
How do you stay updated on developments in education and educational leadership?
This is a huge part of the job. I am a member of the Chartered College of Teaching and we are members of the Independent Association of Preparatory Schools. These allow me to share latest research and practice from industry experts which I can pass on at meetings with the staff and implement in our school.
One of our current projects is to adopt a neurodiversity approach, based on leading research, to promote inclusivity within the classroom.
What is your vision for the school’s future and how do you plan to achieve it?
Rather than a specific vision, I think I would prefer to keep a critical eye and oversee a continual evolution of an already incredibly successful school. The very nature of education is that it is always evolving.
Away from work, how do you like to unwind?
I love to travel and enjoy short breaks away. It is fair to say that I’m a big fan of wholesome hobbies such as gardening, baking and reading.
For further information visit the website www.newcastleprepschool.org.uk