Stephen Brierley, St Margaret’s C of E Academy

It may have only been a term since principal Stephen Brierley took the helm at St Margaret’s C of E Academy, but he’s had no problem settling in. While he may have spent the past few months getting to know new colleagues, new pupils and a new community, the headteacher is no stranger to the top job.

His appointment at the school signalled the start of Stephen’s third headteacher post, and he explains that it was the renown of the Aigburth Road-based boys’ secondary school that primarily attracted him to the role.

“St Margaret’s has a really strong reputation and when you see a school with such a strong reputation looking for a headteacher, I think many people would be attracted to it because it’s obviously such a good school to work in,” he says.

The move to St Margaret’s also prompted a return to the city and its familiar “educational landscape” for Stephen, who previously headed up fellow Liverpool church school Archbishop Blanch from 2003 to 2007, before moving on to The Deanery Church of England High School and Sixth Form in Wigan between 2007 and 2013.

Stephen believes the decisions he has made to move between the schools as headteacher make him well equipped to help maintain the success that St Margaret’s has achieved. In its most recent Ofsted inspection the school achieved a ‘good’ rating, which was then followed by an ‘outstanding’ inspection by the National Society Statutory Inspection of Anglican Schools (SIAS).

“I guess there are some people who will stay in one school and there are people like me who will move around a bit and, to be frankly honest, a good school probably needs a balance of the two,” he says.

“Every school has its little ways of doing things and has its outstanding teachers, people from whom you can draw inspiration. Every school has things where you think ‘I can make a difference here, I can improve things, I can move things on, and I can help’.”

Reflecting on his career as a headteacher so far, Stephen says he has been “fortunate” to take the lead in three successful schools with above average results. Therefore, the principal’s future plans for St Margaret’s are not to implement big changes but to build on the resources that are already in place.

For instance, Stephen has joined the school as it begins to see the ongoing benefits of a volunteering scheme that was launched during a recent term.

Set up by a teacher leading PSHE, known in the school as ‘Learning for Life’, the programme requires Year 10 pupils as well as some sixth form students to give up their time and help the local community.

With many participating students completing an average of 20 hours of voluntary work, Stephen says: “I think one reason why so many kids have been prepared to put so many hours in is because, as a school, there is a strong Christian ethos and they learn and understand that actually it’s not all about what you can do for yourself, it’s about what you can give to society as well. That’s one of the things that make St Margaret’s a particularly exciting place to lead.”

He also goes on to say: “When you come to a school which is already successful you don’t come in and think there’s a large amount that needs changing.

“We have a good programme of continuing professional development for teachers. I’m very keen to see if we can make that even stronger because the most important resource that any school has is its people – both the staff who work there and the children who come – and we invest many hours of teaching in the pupils. I think it’s right to invest in the staff as well, and we can encourage them to be the best teachers they can be.

“I’ve often thought that as a headteacher, it’s important to invest in myself as well because nobody’s got it completely right. I should be called a head learner rather than a headteacher because the moment teachers stop learning is the moment their teaching starts to become less effective.”

Teaching is something that Stephen has always continued to participate in himself, avoiding the danger of being a headteacher “tied to the desk”.

In his subject of maths, he currently teachers a Year 9 class and says maintaining this level of involvement allows him to “be out on the yards and talk to the kids about what’s going on,” but it also lets him lead by example.

“I can’t ask people to do what I’m not prepared to do myself,” says Stephen.
While St Margaret’s may be the seventh school that Stephen has worked for since teaching straight from university, it’s the first time he has worked in an academy.

It’s a model that was put in place by predecessor David Dennison, but while Stephen says the status “certainly brings some advantages”, he explains the school has not yet made use of freedoms such as changing the curriculum or teachers’ pay conditions. He also insists the school’s “very strong links” with the local authority will continue under his leadership.

He says: “St Margaret’s is a confident school, and if you’re a confident school it’s something you can take on board.

“It’s something I’m sure we’ll grow in to. We’re all getting used to the academy world which we’re in now.”

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