Debbie Silcock, Blue Coat School

Debbie Silcock sits in a modern office but a reminder of the Blue Coat School’s 300-year history is never too far away. On the wall hangs a picture of the Bluecoat in Liverpool city centre, the original site of the Wavertree-based school.

Having joined the school as deputy head in 2003, following 15 years as a teacher at Calday Grange Grammar School in West Kirby, she took the role of headteacher six years ago at a time when the school was undergoing several changes, including moving from an all boys school to co-ed in 2002.

“It was daunting,” says Debbie, “But in the end I was brought in as a vehicle for change because they knew they needed to change. When they advertised it’s what they wanted, somebody who could change things in a way that wasn’t particularly threatening to the school’s traditions. The school at the time had made the decision to go co-ed so therefore I was part of the transition from all boys to a mixed school.”

It was a big move for the school, which was founded in 1707 as a means of teaching the city’s poor to read and write, but Debbie has become accustomed to walking the tightrope between modernisation and respecting the school’s traditions.

“I think the ethos of the school has improved.  The children enjoy it and it has really worked. We’ve also changed the timetable to a two-week timetable and hour-long lessons. That was my job to oversee those sort of things and it’s actually had a positive impact on learning and results – there is a focus on teaching and learning here.”

Not afraid to make changes to the school where necessary, Debbie is also mindful of the school’s history. She says: “With the traditions that are here, you’ve just got to be mindful of them. You have to embrace them but also tweak them. You don’t throw it all out and start again because it’s worked for a long time. People enjoy the traditions.”

She has also found the biggest advocate for the school’s history was to be found in the classroom. When the school chose to take academy status – a move Debbie says had no affect on the curriculum and was purely a financial decision – the students backed plans to keep the historic Blue Coat name and uniform.

“We spoke about it and what it meant for the school. We wanted to stay with the same name. We are the Blue Coat School. That’s really important after 300 years. More importantly, it’s important to the young people. They wanted everything to stay much the same.

“They are the best ambassadors for this school. When we have open evening, they’re the people who take the prospective students round, they’re the ones who tell them what it means to be a Blue Coat student.”

While the Blue Coat balances its past with the present, one thing that has remained constant is its involvement in Liverpool city life. When asked about the importance of the school to the local area, Debbie said: “I’m glad you said that because I hope other people see it like that. It’s a Liverpool school with children from inside and outside Liverpool. One of our iconic buildings in the city has our name on it and we think our children would hate to be thought of as not part of Liverpool. It’s our job to make sure they feel involved.”

Part of that inclusivity comes from creating closer ties at home and further afield. Along with several other local schools it has forged ties with China, including a link to a school to Shanghai and the link to Mandarin lessons for its students. Debbie also encourages the school’s sports teams to compete locally, something the children enjoy.

While Debbie admits much has changed at the Blue Coat School over the past ten years, results have been consistently high. The school received outstanding in all areas in a recent Ofsted inspection and exam results are exceptional, something she puts down to the quality of the staff.

“Clearly we have to get results because that is what is expected of us. They have to be high but we set high standards ourselves. We set high targets and by and large we set them realistically but ambitiously. That’s what we do for our students and we wouldn’t expect things from our students that we don’t expect from ourselves.

“My staff are crucial, nothing can happen without them. Our departments are really good teams and our pastoral care services are really good teams. The staff are really proud to be associated with Bluecoat and we invest a lot of time and effort in them.”

Debbie says she may not have ever considered becoming a head teacher if a role had not come up at the Bluecoat School.

However, even as things change, there is one tradition that remains: “That’s the one thing about Blue Coat – everybody who works here loves working for the school and for the students. It’s about taking the old, appreciating it and adding the new in to enable that.”

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