Starting out as a NQT at Knotty Ash Primary School 15 years ago, Roanne Clements-Bedson has practically grown up at the school where she is now headteacher. Roanne talks to Educate about her career ascent, challenges of her new role and exploring new ideas for collaboration.
Rising through the ranks
by Hannah Fowler
Roanne Clements-Bedson was cataloguing public sculpture for the Conservation Centre when her teaching epiphany happened. “One of the sculptures was in the courtyard of a primary school,” she explains. “I was walking there and I thought oh my goodness this is where I belong, this is where I need to be!”
Before this chance encounter, Roanne grew up in Loughborough and studied art history at university in Leicester. She even spent a year in Italy soaking up medieval architecture. Roanne moved to Liverpool after her degree to complete a Masters in Art History and began her work restoring sculptures for the Conservation Centre, which is part of National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside (NMGM).
However, soon after her chance encounter at a primary school, Roanne enrolled for a PGCE and started her teaching career. In 2001, Roanne landed her first job as a NQT at Knotty Ash Primary School in Liverpool and has stayed there ever since – 15 years to be exact.
“From the very first time coming to look around, I just felt this is where I belong and I’ve never really been tempted to go anywhere else. The career opportunities developed at the right time pretty much,” she says.
When asked what drew her in to teaching, Roanne says it’s the joy of children and her love of developing, learning and reflecting on what you can do better – something which is part and parcel of the job for teachers.
“However hard things can get, and they can,” she said. “And however down you can get about something in the national agenda which has changed just when you thought you were on track, you just go in to a classroom and there are children who are pleased to see you or that moment when something that they thought they were never going to get actually clicks in to place, it’s magical.”
Freshly out of NQT year and on a temporary contract, Roanne was desperate to stay at Knotty Ash so applied for the head of Key Stage 1 position, and got it. Over the last 15 years, Roanne has risen in the ranks, from assistant head to deputy head before taking the most senior position in January 2016.
“I felt I was ready for the headship at this school,” said Roanne. “In terms of personal ambition it wasn’t that I wanted to be a head at all but I felt like I didn’t want anybody else to be head at our school. I know what works, I know our parents, our children and the staff and it just felt like the right time and the right thing to do.”
So, is the headteacher role everything she expected it to be? Has there been any surprises or shocks? “I thought I might have to change more to go from deputy to head but actually I haven’t particularly,” explains Roanne. “I’m really pleased that I have managed to change the role to suit me and suit the school and the staff and the situation we’re all in.”
The ethos of Knotty Ash is to be a fully inclusive environment which celebrates all children. The school is a fully signing school and all 251 pupils, from nursery to Year 6 learn sign language through half an hour lessons every week.
With an established deaf resource base, the school immerses deaf pupils in to all aspects of school life, with all lessons, assemblies and productions signed. For Roanne, not only does this help deaf pupils learn key skills in communication and integration but it benefits the school community as a whole.
“It brings out such a wonderful side to our mainstream children,” says Roanne. “We’ve seen some absolutely blossom in that role and making those friendships and supporting.”
Although teaching was a departure from her previous role, the collaborative ethos she honed working at the Conservation Centre has transferred over.
“The collaboration is something I’ve really tried to develop in the last year,” she explains. “Creating opportunities for staff to collaborate because that’s when the exciting things happen and people think ‘what if we tried that’ or linked that subject to that subject, there is that excitement all the time.”
In fact, Roanne’s collaborative philosophy was celebrated by Ofsted in January 2017 during an inspection, with Ofsted noting: ‘Since becoming headteacher, you have strengthened opportunities for staff to learn from one another and from training’.
One element of this collaboration is the introduction of paired year groups, which Roanne says allows for a richness in planning. The school has also rewritten the foundation subject curriculum and introduced leadership teams which oversee different subject areas: community and diversity; science and discovery and culture and creativity.
“As a one-form entry school if you don’t actually plan for collaboration, teachers can be very isolated,” explains Roanne. “Teachers are liaising as teams rather than one individual thinking I have full responsibility for the whole subject as well as class responsibility.”
With an art history background, it’s no surprise Roanne is passionate about embedding arts and culture in to the curriculum. “There is so much culture in Liverpool,” she says. “So we’re planning a cultural entitlement for our children which will make sure that during their time with us, they get to see the major galleries in Liverpool and they get to go to the theatre.”
From themed weeks, cinema trips, art exhibitions to learning to play the guitar (which Knotty Ash offer to all children in Years 4, 5 and 6); the school offers a wealth of enrichment opportunities to open children’s eyes to the different career paths and prospects out there.
Roanne hopes the school’s varied arts and culture programme will see them recognised with the Arts Mark later this year – an award which recognises schools championing arts and culture.
In the past month, Knotty Ash has also developed a green screen room which gives their children the opportunity to film, produce scripts, hone IT skills and develop transferrable skills such as reading and writing for a purpose (according to Roanne the children are ‘loving it’). On the afternoon I visited the school, the green screen room was a flurry of activity, with children filming a special video for two of the school’s teachers who are soon to tie the knot.
As headteacher for over a year, Roanne is settling in to the position and is enjoying the challenges of her new role. Although she does admit to missing her own class. “But then,” she adds. “This door is always open and children just wonder in, which is lovely, and they’re not here for anything except to have a chat and a little catch up.”