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In the Spotlight

Miss S Gray

Every term we put a member of the Oxclose Primary Academy family in the spotlight. Following on from last term’s interview with Mrs Boll, we decided to catch up with Miss Gray, who like Mrs Boll has given tremendous, loyal service to OPA. We hope you enjoy reading through this interview, as Miss Gray recalls some fantastic memories of 3 decades of the school’s history.

“Hello, Miss Gray. We know things at the school are very busy at the moment so we really appreciate you taking time out to speak to us here at the website. Can I start by asking how many years have you worked at the school?”

Arrgh! Too many to think about! Suffice to say that July 2014 will mark the end of my 30th year! YES!!!! This really is my 30th year as a teacher at Oxclose and I know what everyone is thinking – She doesn’t look old enough!!

“Can you still remember your first day?” 

Absolutely! Mr. Yarrow had just been made Head of what was then Oxclose Junior School – he showed me around in the July and I went on quite a few school trips in the last few weeks of that summer term in 1984;  I remember thinking “There’s not much to this teaching lark!” My first class were lovely – I still have their photograph – and some of the pupils in school today are related to children who were in my very first Year 5 (‘3rd Year’ as we called them then) class!

“Our last spotlight interviewee was Mrs. Boll. She has also given tremendous service to OPA. What is it about the school that keeps people like Mrs. Boll and yourself here so long?”

Senility?! I have stayed so long as I feel a loyalty to the children and their parents, many of whom I’ve taught. It’s an honour to be trusted to teach someone’s child and I have always believed in working hard and giving my best because of it. When I started Oxclose I had some excellent role models, a dedicated staff who all put the children first and wanted to share good practice with younger teachers like myself. For fifteen years, I was the newest member of staff, a testament to how happy Oxclose Juniors was under Mr. Yarrow and probably the reason I feel so attached to the school and community. I still keep in touch with ex-staff, indeed we had a lovely lunch out in the summer and October holidays. I am hoping to start a page for ex staff to let people know what they are up to now and to display some photographs from the old days, so look out for it!

“How would you describe OPA to somebody who might not know anything about the school, or even the local community?”

I would describe the school as a little oasis in the community where all are welcome, valued and respected. The children in this school are amazing and I doubt there is another school anywhere with such happy, well-mannered pupils! Staff are dedicated to giving children the best education and life experience possible and the community support us in that endeavour. We work with many agencies, who help us cater for everyone’s needs, and our parents ALWAYS support us in our efforts – whether it’s fund raising for school or charity, attending performances, sending in resources, helping organise events, helping out on visits or any number of other things that make life so varied in this wonderful school.

“What have been your highlights over the years?”

This is going to be a really long list! I can remember a lot of laughs and a lot of special moments, but here are a just a few of my favourites:

My first year as a teacher, when the school was totally open plan, meant Mr. O’ Neil could play a few tricks on me – his favourite was putting his pet stick insect in my register!

The school trips that I took my Jack Russell, Dog, on – no one could eat lunch until we’d got the ball off Dog! Everyone was ready for lunch by the time they’d chased him for half an hour!

The fun run where the Head, Mr. Yarrow, was dressed as Wee Willy Winky (in Victorian nightshirt) and the Director of Education arrived!

My ‘Mums Army’ from the 80s, a group of mothers who came in every day to hear readers, help in lessons and teach children to cook, sew and knit!

The staff versus children ‘grudge matches’ we had each term – netball, rounders, football etc. The staff always cheated and the crowds always booed!

The Saturday Summer Fairs – when the sun always shone and everyone had a great time – they always ended back at the Mrs. Burdis, Chair of Governor’s house for a party (which was always a surprise to her husband!)

Those early mornings in the 90s when the staff all came in to decorate the hall for Christmas, just to see the children’s faces when they walked through the doors on 1st December!

The first of my pupils to join the forces and the proud day he dropped by in his uniform with pictures of his ‘Passing Out Parade’ – he made a real impression on my class!

The Victorian School Day, where Mr. Carr was the ‘Schools Inspector’ and insisted I recite my tables – quickly!

The trip to Aydon Castle – we went back to the 13th Century and spent the whole day ‘living history’ and putting a performance on for the American tourists!

The trip to Middleton with Mr. Yarrow when the gang decided he and I needed to spend the day in wet gear so they soaked us by throwing a large amount of the River Tees over us at morning break! We got them back of course!!! We invaded their numeracy lesson with water pistols – back at school when they thought we’d forgotten all about it!

The generosity of the children and their families in raising money for others e.g. My Giving Tree where we regularly gave more than 100 presents to Barnardos each Christmas, finally raising the money Hope needed for her surgery, the very first Breast Cancer Day my Year 5 class organised and the many ‘fancy dress fundraisers’ when we all had fun and helped others too!

The Minibeast Museum my Year 5 class opened to their families – in addition to the exhibits, they ran a café, gift shop, crèche and security!

The Fashion Show in 2011, which Year 6 put on themselves – I’ll never forget the sight of Saman as MC Hammer or Clodagh refusing to leave the stage!!!

The ‘Water Day’ where we played on water slides, threw water bombs, blew enormous bubbles, sat in paddling pools and then … my rotten class decided to all turn on me with their Super Soakers!

The incredible donations for the Memorial Garden – always pink and yellow – and the fun we always had planting them.

Like I said – far too many! If I don’t stop now, I’ll never finish the interview! It seems all I’ve done in the last thirty years is have fun! 

“If you could go back to one year of your time at OPA, which year would that be?”

There haven’t been many I haven’t enjoyed, but I always think fondly of the years I spent team teaching with Mrs. Jan Miller. I’d always hated the idea of such a thing as I like to be in charge of my class, but working with Jan was an absolute pleasure – we had the same philosophy on education, the same standards for behaviour and attitude to work, we both were hard workers and we complemented each other. Whilst she was really musical (and I just thought I was!), I loved art – she was really messy and I love tidying up and she loved Mathematics and I loved English. The best time I’ve ever had in class, was teaching with Jan Miller! The other bonus is that in that year, 1996, I was only34, so if your time machine is working…I’m ready! 

“Are there any members of staff that have inspired you, or that you hold in high esteem?”

Obviously I have worked with some fantastic teachers and I’m still learning today. Mrs. Brenda Ainslie, Miss Viv Coy, Mrs. Jan Miller, Mr. Alan Mitchell, Mr. John O Neil, Mrs. Pauline Pringle, Mrs. Helen Walton, Mrs. Sue Walvin and Mrs. Gaye Wilson all helped me in the early days and I still use some of what they taught me today! I have also worked with some amazing support staff – Mrs. Whelan, who became Mrs. Thomas, was our only TA in the ‘old junior school days’ and she taught me so much about enjoying your time with children and making sure their hours at school were safe and happy ones – I saw Marlene in the summer holidays and she is still that same wonderful, positive person I remember! Mrs. Kay Martindale and Mrs. Lynne Halse, both taught me that a well-run school office is the work engine of a well-run school and that the ‘school secretary’ is a being you always obey!!! Working with Mrs. Blanckley over the last few years has been a pleasure – she always finds my jokes funny – and has supported and encouraged me in developing my role out of the classroom.

“How often do you see ex pupils, and do they recognise you?”

As I’m mostly chained to my laptop these days, I don’t get out and about in Washington as much as I used to; but whenever I see an ex-pupil, they are always  respectful and I love hearing how they are doing. Of course I always take full credit for any of their achievements as they MUST stem back to the year I taught them!

“What do you consider to be your greatest achievement while working at the school?”

Lasting this long?! I love teaching a creative curriculum and it still amazes me when children say they loved the things we did! ICT has long been a favourite subject and Literacy is my real passion, so I’d love to think I’ve encouraged a few pupils over the years to try something new, explore a website or dive into a good book! I’m also a stickler for manners and good behaviour; so if there are a few parents out there, who were once in my class, now passing those same lessons on to their own children, that would really make me smile! All most teachers want is to know they made a difference – if there are pupils who still remember me fondly and use some of the skills I’ve taught them, then I can ask for no more than that!

“This academic year, you are not a Year Group teacher. How would you best describe the crucial role you play in the everyday goings on at the school?”

I hope I am going to help Year 6 make the very most of this year – I’ve already seen some super writing from one of my groups as they have grown in confidence in their ability, even in such a short time. I’m aiming to unlock the mysteries of literacy and numeracy and plug those gaps, that some may have in their knowledge or understanding. Sometimes it only takes a little bit of support to make a huge difference! 

I am also part of the senior leadership team (SLT) and it has been great to have time to help the school keep moving forward.  Teaching and learning are key areas in our improvement plan and I have enjoyed supporting colleagues in introducing a new, exciting curriculum this term. 

“What is the most rewarding part of your job?”

CHILDREN. CHILDREN. CHILDREN. I became a teacher to make a difference and to ‘give something back’ as I had been so fortunate in my own education. However, all those years ago, I didn’t realise that education is a two-way process and that no matter how hard we work as teachers, we get back ten-fold from our pupils. It’s impossible to be down for long when you work in a school – there’s always a child who smiles at you, or who holds a door open for you, or who has good news to share, or who has finally understood something after trying for days or weeks to get it, or who is excited by a forthcoming event … the list is endless! Most of us in school would say that the children are the best thing about the job – unless I get a huge pay rise of course!!!

“It’s quite easy for teachers, staff and parents to see all the changes in school since the Ofsted report at the start of the year, but what do you think the kids make of it all? Do you think they can see the progress that has been made?”

Every member of the ‘Oxclose Team’ has worked their socks off to ensure our children receive the best education we can provide. As a member of the SLT, I have not only been involved in supporting the introduction of a new curriculum and new ways of working in school, but also for monitoring the impact of such new initiatives – I have been into classrooms, talked to children, looked at books and listened to staff. Our children are very proud of their school and I have seen how excited they become when they share their books with me. They have been accepting of changes and, as always, have tried to give of their best – the children enjoy Green Pen Work and are starting to peer and self-assess; they try hard to remember their ‘Learn its’ for Big Math’s lessons and enjoy improving their scores in the Friday test; they take a pride in their Learning Journals; they appreciate the new texts we have in the reading area and library; they are trying to learn the new Nelson handwriting scheme; they produce their best work for our whole-school displays; they learn their parts for performances; they research their topics at home and bring in books and resources to share in class; they have written speeches, produced posters and some even baked cakes to win support as school councillors, house captains or vice captains…I could go on forever listing the ways we have included children in trying to raise standards in teaching and learning. Yes! I think our children know their school is making progress and that they have an integral part to play in helping us continue to make that progress.

“How do you think the school may look in a year from now?”

We will continue to keep good practice, but I’m sure there will also be some changes ahead as we continue in our endeavours to improve the school.  Outside, I expect that: the exterior grounds will look neat, clean and cared for; the outdoor play equipment will be well maintained and possibly added to; the Memorial Garden will have new furniture, paving and planting; the School Garden will be fully planted and edible; play areas will be safe and accessible for all users and that the whole outdoor environment will be used to deliver a thrilling, challenging curriculum! Inside, I expect that: the school will be safe, clean and well maintained, our new Medical Room will serve its purpose; the ICT Suite will be upgraded to support children in improving their skills; the Library will be well stocked and possibly have a new electronic checking in/out system; the new Numeracy Room will help improve standards and be timetabled for the whole week; walls will be filled with children’s work and class areas will be alive with the sound of children enjoying their learning. 

Of course there are other changes we expect – all teaching should be of a good standard or above, accelerated progress for children, their attainment to be at least in line with ‘National Expectations’ and a positive outcome from any inspections by the Local Authority or H.M.I. I see a positive future for pupils in Oxclose and hope to be part of its future success.

“Thanks for your time Miss Gray. Final Question – Sports Day last year was a fantastic way to end the year on a high. What were your favourite moments from that day?”

It was a great day! The fact that it ran like clockwork was down to a lot of planning and hard work by staff, but we all felt it was worth it. Seeing parents and children having such a good time at the end of a trying school year was amazing and I have plans to extend the event for 2014, so watch out! My favourite moment was seeing the Green Team Captains receive their trophy and the whole team running off down the track; it could only have been bettered by my team (Yellow Team) winning! If I get to be scorer again next year maybe that could be arranged?!?!

 “We will see what we can do…”

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We launched the website last term by speaking to Mrs Boll. Our Higher Level Teaching Assistant has been at the school for over 30 years, and tells us how she loves the school as much now as she did on her first day. Mrs Boll has been talking candidly about her early years at the school, and how she believes the school is going through a change that might make it unrecognisable from it’s former self.

“Hello, Mrs Boll. Thank you for taking the time out to speak to us for our new website. You have given fantastic service to our school. What made you want to become involved with teaching all those years ago?”

Well, the idea of working with children, and knowing that I enjoyed working with children probably started when I was just 15! A family friend had recently had twins, and I was often helping out with baby-sitting duties etcetera so even at that early age I caught the bug of looking after and helping children. I decided then, that I would train to be a Nursery Nurse, and after 3 years of study, which also included day release twice a week, I became qualified.

“And then you joined OPA?”

I joined Oxclose as a Nursery Nurse in 1982, when I returned to full time work, after having my own children. I can still remember my first day, and the immediate sense of community and family I felt around the school. I still think now, when the children first come into Reception Class, that they should be able to feel that same way.

“What can you remember of your early years at the school?”

First of all, the infant and junior schools were two separate schools. At that time, the school was actually a ‘3 form intake school’, so we had nearly 90 kids in Reception class alone! I can also remember the head teacher at the time was a lady called Annette Parr, and I must say she really supported me during my first few years at the school.

“You mentioned ‘community’ and ‘family’. Are those things part of the reason you have stayed at the school so long?”

Definitely. I just love to see the children grow and flourish. You have to realise, that we have children in our Reception class whose parents were once in our Reception class. And the parents of those parents are now grandparents to children in our reception class! So I have known three generations of some families, and helped to teach two of those generations! It is just wonderful to see them around the school.

“So what have been your highlights over the years?”

I have had so many – it is difficult to pick them out. I have to say that some of my favourite days at the school have been when the whole school has got involved with national celebrations. We had a great time when Prince Charles and Princess Diana were married, and again with the recent Royal wedding, and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. I can also remember one year when Jimmy Nail came to the school to film his detective series ‘Spender’. It was during a school holiday but a lot of the staff were in that day spying out of the window as they filmed in the car park! It was a bit disappointing when we watched the show however – if you blinked, you missed it!!

“If you could go back to one year of your time at OPA, which year would that be?”

I couldn’t choose. I have loved every minute of my time here. In fact, if the night ever comes where I go home and feel that I hadn’t had a good day, I will give it up! Although there is a structure to the school day, you never really know what is going to happen. I wear a watch, but I honestly can hardly tell you what time it is when I come in, and what time it is when I go home!

“Are there any members of staff that have inspired you, or that you hold in high esteem?”

There have been so many fantastic people who have worked here, and still do. Teachers are all very different and offer different things. I worked with a teacher called Anne Lowden who certainly inspired me and I also mentioned Annette Parr earlier. She was a very forward thinking head teacher who gave me many opportunities to develop my career. In the early 90s I was able to complete my Advanced Level as a Nursery Nurse as well as successfully completing a Special Teacher Assistant Course. More recently I have also completed my Higher Level Teaching Assistant Course. Like Mrs Parr, I have always believed in professional development. In the education sector, you have got to keep up to date as things can move very fast.

“What do you consider to be your greatest achievement while working at the school?”

My greatest achievements are all centred around the children. Every year at ‘Leavers Assembly’ I get emotional! I see children grow from Nursery to Comprehensive School, and then return as parents! I have had parents come to me with photographs of their children who have joined the army for example. It is an achievement for me, when I see their own achievements. Just last year my dentist left the surgery I go to. When I went for a check up, I met my new dentist  …..  an ex pupil of the school! Her name is Belinda Sangha and when she came into the room she just got the giggles! It was like she was 5 years old again. It was lovely to catch up, and she told me all about the wonderful things her friends were getting up to. It makes me very proud.

“I feel you have answered this, but what is the most rewarding part of your job?”

Yes. As I said earlier, every day is different. I feel really privileged to have this job. Sometimes I think I shouldn’t be paid because I get so much out of this job. The most rewarding part is always seeing the children develop. When they come to me and say, “I can’t do this”, and then you can offer them the tools to learn, and the encouragement, and then to see them come back and say “I can do this”, and to see their little faces light up. It’s just amazing.

“To change the mood slightly Mrs Boll, how did you take the news of the recent Ofsted report?”

I was devastated – there is no other word. On a personal and professional level, it was very hard to take. A school should always move forward, so to be told we had gone backwards was a huge blow to us all. More importantly, I felt for the parents, and of course, ultimately, the children.

“So what has happened in the school since that report? Should parents be confident that the school is going in the right direction?”

Absolutely. The support that has come in has been very positive and tremendously helpful. The structure has picked up. The pace has picked up. The morale amongst teachers and staff is fantastic, and really, despite the report, the children couldn’t be in a better place right now. Everybody believes in what we are doing, and although the kids may not know it, they have also responded fantastically to the changes that have been made. Parents should be very confident.

“How do you think the school may look in a year from now?”

I keep saying to everybody, “onwards and upwards”! I can see this school being a better place. The right systems are in place, and there will be continuity in the leadership and management of the school. In a year’s time, I imagine the school will be stable, well organised and simply “brighter”.

“Thanks for your time Mrs Boll. Final Question. How do you sum up over 30 years of teaching at this school?”

I have made a lot of friends. Teachers. Children. Staff. Parents. This is a real community school, and I have worked with some great people over the years. It has simply been a wonderful journey!!

“I think we can all agree on that!”


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