Interview with: Mrs Victoria Beaney, head of school at Deyes High School
Mrs Victoria Beaney is only four days into her new job at Deyes High School when Educate sits down with her to chat about her leadership journey to-date and her plans to strengthen the ‘already perfect’ vision for the school.
This September marks Victoria’s 24th year of teaching, a career she knew she wanted to go into after her first year of university where she studied English and History at Manchester Metropolitan University. Originally from Marple, near Stockport, Victoria describes herself as a ‘homebird’ as she has always been in and around the North West of England.
She said: “I was heavily influenced by my primary school education and the memories that teachers created for me there. So, after graduating I went on to do my PGCE and on the first day of my induction in the school I thought ‘This is really what I want to do’.”
“I was no angel at school myself and that made me want to focus on secondary education straightaway as I thought I can do that and I could have a positive impact there.”
Victoria has always had a love of literature and so naturally she started her journey as an English teacher. She said: “I have always loved the subject and I have always wanted to be able to have the connection with it. The challenge that every teacher faces is, ‘Can you share that passion and ignite that in somebody else?’. This has always been at the heart of why I wanted to be a teacher.”
As a newly qualified teacher (NQT), Victoria started teaching in a rural school on the boarder of Derbyshire. “As it was a very small school, I was something of a unique thing as they hadn’t had an NQT at the school for 10 years but it was such a great experience!
“I worked with the head of English who completely inspired me to be the best teacher I could be and to also start my leadership journey early because she didn’t think it was ever too soon. This is something I firmly believe in too as a leader now.”
Four years later, and after getting married, Victoria moved to Wigan. That’s when her main leadership journey began.
She said: “My first leadership promotion was head of English in a comprehensive in Wigan. For 18 years I have managed teaching and learning, to some degree, and the important thing for me is that I have never come away from teaching. Being in this job now is the first time I’m probably not going to be in a classroom.”
Asked how she feels about this, Victoria said: “It is very exciting because it is the job I have always wanted and it’s in a place that has an ethos that I have always wanted. I have only applied for two jobs at this level and now I’m in this position. I think that’s because I knew that this role was the right fit. It’s about personality and the way you can build relationships.”
Deyes High School is part of the Lydiate Learning Trust. Victoria explained: “As soon as I met the board of the trust I was really drawn to their ambition and their commitment to learning and professional learning. It just felt like this is where I could belong.”
Looking back at the inspirational leaders and headteachers she has had chance to work with over the years, Victoria said: “I have been extremely fortunate to be developed by them and I have learnt key qualities. These include being eternally optimistic about what we can do in schools.
“It can sometimes be daunting and we’re not always framed in the best light but there are amazing people who work in schools, who seem to have an endless capacity to improve things for students. I’m very optimistic and even in this situation now I feel that we can do it.”
Victoria is a people person and this is where a lot of her focus lies. She continued: “Putting people first and developing positive relationships is the real way forward. It’s also about building wider relationships with parents, the community, governors and those within the trust. It’s about having that positivity, openness and honesty and being ready to work really hard because you believe in what you’re doing.”
For Victoria, leading a school is not a ‘one fits all’ formula. She explained: “Not everything works for every school. This is my fifth school in my journey and they’ve all been very different and the solutions for each school are different. You’ve got to be very agile in your leadership and be prepared to change the way you do things sometimes.
“I have that flexibility about me – it’s not my way or the highway! It’s about what is the best way for Deyes High School to move forward and looking for those opportunities to find solutions.”
Whilst her official start date was on Tuesday 1 September, Victoria was appointed on 20 April. She said: “Since that point, I have been working with the executive team and the senior leadership team. [The pandemic] has obviously made things very complicated but in other ways it has really been an opportunity for me to get to know people on a different level before the students returned.
“Talking to staff on Tuesday morning, some of which haven’t been here [in the school] for sixth months, my key message was all about reassurance and that we can all do this. We can make it a safe and happy place, and we can still learn in the ways that we want to and develop ourselves and our students, but we just have to do it in a slightly different framework for the moment.
She continued: “We are trying not to think of it as the things that we’ve lost or things that we’re having to catch up on. Our wellbeing is going to be a massive priority and we’ll come back stronger.”
For many new headteachers, they will set about developing a new vision for the school when they arrive, but for Victoria she was delighted with the one already in place; ‘Engage, Enable and Empower’.
Victoria said: “I was really lucky to come to a school where I didn’t feel the need to create a new vision – it encapsulates everything that I would want to do with the whole community at Deyes High School. Being part of the trust means we can collaborate with the best and we can share our academic excellence with others.
She continued: “This vision is about making sure that everybody knows the starting point, knows what we’re all about and are ready to start a journey with us.
“You can use the term ‘engage’ in so many ways but really I see it as that you’re committed, taking part and that you’re on board. The ‘enable’ is everything that we do in the middle – it’s the quality of teaching and learning, together with the focus on people and relationships. It’s about giving the students the best opportunities that they can have.”
Victoria said: “The result of that is that you’re ‘empowered’. Every school has the responsibility, in my opinion, of empowering a student through the curriculum, through the social and emotional education and through extracurricular opportunities.
“Empowerment for me is about the day that they do have to leave us. There will be doors open everywhere for them and they’ve opened them for themselves, with our support. Their futures should be limitless and I just want them to know that they have that chance after the seven years of being with us.
She concluded: “If you have got the power at the end of your journey at Deyes High School to do what you want to do next, then we have lived our vision.”