Three Mid Devon schools welcome new executive headteacher

John Jolliffe

Posted on: 25 January 2016

It may not be very far from Bristol to mid Devon. But it’s a big cultural shift to move from the headship of a large urban primary in Bristol to the leadership of three village schools in mid Devon. However, that’s just what John Jolliffe has done.

He’s just moved to mid Devon to take up the executive headship of Newton St Cyres, Cheriton Fitzpaine and Thorverton primary schools. He spoke to us about what he calls his ‘new adventure’.

John Jolliffe lived in Bristol for 20 years and was a headteacher there for 14 years. But, with their children grown up, he and his wife, who is also a teacher, felt they had an opportunity to do something different.

When the executive headship of the three schools was advertised, he decided to apply and he took up the post this month.

The three schools are formally linked in the Exe Valley Federation but retain their own individual characters with their own heads of school.

“I believe it is absolutely fundamental that rural communities keep their local schools,” says Mr Jolliffe.

“That’s what keeps them alive and keeps young families in the community.”

Between them, the three schools have around 250 pupils – less than his last primary in Bristol on its own. But Mr Jolliffe says this brings great benefits.

“The teachers know every child individually and often they’ve known their families for a long time as well.

“For me the key is to get the well-being of each child right. It’s a bit of a cliché, but if a child is happy and secure at school then their academic progress will follow. A child who is unhappy won’t learn.

“If we get that right and provide the right opportunities and the right learning environment, then they will make progress.

“I want us to give our children the right skills to be ready for their next step. You know you’ve done a good job when your Year 6s (11-year-olds) are ready to move on to secondary school and you just know they will thrive.”

Whilst Mr Jolliffe believes in the value of small schools, he says there are huge benefits in the federation.

“For the pupils, they can meet children of their own age and link up for academic workshops and sporting competitions and get to know people they will be with in secondary school.

“There are economies of scale both for events for the children and in terms of training and development for staff.

“And our teachers can share the benefits of what they are doing in one school with children in the other two schools. They can also work between schools and get career experience without having to apply for a new job and being lost to us.”

Each of the three primaries has its own head of school who manages it day to day and teaches for part of the week. Mr Jolliffe spends a day and a half in each school and they all meet up weekly to discuss strategic development.

“I’ve very quickly become an expert in the different routes between the schools,” he says.

“What’s exciting is seeing how effectively the three schools can work together.

“It is really important that each school maintains its own unique character but I want to produce a strategic development plan for the whole federation which will provide a direction and purpose for improvement.

“That will use the individual strengths of each school to improve the others and improvement is what we are all about.”

Posted in: Education