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Interview with Mrs Jill Wright, headteacher of Whitefield Primary School

On 17 November 2023, Whitefield Primary School was awarded Most Inspirational Primary School, sponsored by Angel Solutions, at the Educate Awards. The school team there on the night looked elated as they walked down the iconic red carpet and accepted the award.“For us to win that award is huge for the community. It’s for our parents, our children and our wider school community to know that, here, in the middle of Everton, they have a really inspirational primary school which, hopefully, they are proud of,” comments Jill Wright, headteacher of Whitefield Primary School.

“We were up against some absolutely fantastic primary schools in that category and I didn’t think we would win if I’m honest. For our school to receive that award, it has created a real sense of belonging.”

Jill’s passion for fostering a sense of belonging has been a constant in her career. Taking the helm as headteacher of the school in 2020, amid the challenges of the pandemic, was a full-circle moment for Jill. Her teaching journey began 30 years prior, when she joined as a newly qualified teacher (or an ‘early careers teacher’ as it is now known) at this very school.

Jill says: “On my first day, I just knew Whitefield was special and it would forever have a place in my heart.”Throughout the years, Jill’s career evolved, presenting her with new and challenging roles, and she enthusiastically embraced various secondments. Her adventurous spirit and unwavering commitment to teaching also saw her working at schools in Tanzania. Yet despite these diverse experiences, she was always drawn back to Whitefield Primary School.

Taking on the role of headteacher during COVID-19 presented Jill with an extraordinary challenge. Navigating her new responsibilities came with the added complexity of adhering to ever-changing rules and protocols. Jill explains: “Getting the whole community through that time was really difficult. Even coming out of the pandemic was really hard as we continued to work tirelessly to ensure the children were OK and everyone was back in school and working together as a community. I think that’s been really significant for us all.”

Whitefield Primary School has not only received recognition at the Educate Awards but it also takes pride in achieving the Gold Mental Health Award and the Gold Attachment and Trauma Sensitive Award. These accolades represent the highest level of accomplishment in both frameworks.

Jill says: “We are really focused on developing practice in school and these are some of the key things that we work towards in order to progress as a school. Many schools will know, they’re not easy to achieve and we have worked hard over the years to progress to each level. Receiving gold was absolutely fantastic.”

Having experienced the challenges of starting as an early careers teacher herself, Jill and her team ensure these new members of staff are partnered with experienced staff who have been trained to coach and offer the right support when working in a complex community. Jill comments: “Great teachers are part of a team, so great teachers need great support staff. As a whole, you have to be passionate about what you do and be very child centred.

“You have to have a really good understanding of the curriculum, where the children need to be and an understanding of who is sitting in front of you. By knowing your children really well, you’ve got to know what makes them tick and what their barriers are. With your team, and the wider school team, you can work together to overcome all those barriers so that they can achieve.”

She adds: “We say in school ‘Value each child for who they are, prepare them for who they can be’ and if you are a really good teacher, that’s exactly what you need to do.”As an English graduate, Jill is naturally a proud bookworm and reading is something that is central to school life at Whitefield.

“Making sure our children can read is integral to all that we do,” Jill says. “The technical aspect of reading is huge. Right from the start we ensure that the early reading offer in school is right, for example, we make sure that phonics is taught well so that children can pick that up at a really young age. “Beyond that, it’s making sure that any children who have any special educational needs with reading are really targeted. The offer here is that everybody is expected to learn how to read. Some of them might do it in this way, or for some, they might need some extra help, but everybody will actually learn to read and that is absolutely key.”

Parents are instrumental in instilling a love for reading from an early age and the school has high expectations when it comes to their involvement. Jill continues: “Involving parents in reading for pleasure and storytelling is vital. We need everyone to understand the value and the importance of reading from a young age.

“We encourage reading for pleasure in so many ways. Our school library is brilliant and our school librarian helps instil the message and, together with another member of staff, they really push the reading for pleasure agenda. Children have book wishes which means once a term we go to Waterstone’s and they pick out a book that they’re keen to read.”

Taking inspiration from TikTok, Whitefield has a BookTok where staff, pupils and parents share their love about reading and what books they are reading at the moment. Jill adds: “We also have a group of children who are pupil librarians and they essentially run the school library and decide what books go in there – they’ll read them all too so then they recommend books to other children which is a great way of encouraging reading across the whole school.”

“The key thing is making sure that everybody can read and that they can read fluently because you won’t choose to do something for pleasure that is difficult to do. You’ve got to make sure that all those technical things are there so the barrier isn’t about not doing it because it’s difficult.” Inclusion lies at the core of Whitefield Primary School, and with 327 pupils within the school and the nursery, it is paramount that every child feels welcome and has the opportunity to go on and succeed.

Whilst Jill is very modest about the school winning the Most Inspirational Primary School category at the Educate Awards, she believes that it is the school’s inclusive approach which makes it standout. Jill concludes: “Belonging to something is so important. If you belong somewhere, and you feel that you belong there, then you can achieve. We say to our children ‘Be here, be you, belong’.

“When it comes to inclusion it is about knowing each child as an individual. Each child comes to school with their own individual set of circumstances, and it is understanding these circumstances to make sure that each child has what they need in place, with their family, to enable them to achieve.”

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