Posted: 17.08.21 at 09:17 by Tim Lethaby
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Last week, St Dunstan's School in Glastonbury celebrated a successful year of GCSE results, despite a challenging year for the students and staff due to Covid lockdowns.
After the dust had settled, we caught up with head teacher Lynda Bevan to find out how she was finding the role, having only been appointed earlier this year.
Tell us about your career leading up to being head teacher of St Dunstan's, and what were the key considerations about taking on the role?
Prior to joining the team at St Dunstan’s, I worked at Hayesfield School in Bath for the best part of a decade; I was head of Key Stage 5 English and a sixth form tutor. I joined St Dunstan’s in 2014 as head of English – I fell in love with the school as soon as I came for interview and have loved it ever since.
I have been very fortunate in my career at St Dunstan’s as I was promoted to assistant head teacher with responsibility for teaching and learning back in 2017, I then moved to being assistant head teacher with responsibility for pastoral care – behaviour, attendance and safeguarding – a couple of years later and then was promoted to deputy head teacher in 2019. When I was offered the opportunity to apply to be headteacher, I had no doubt that it was something I wanted to do; key considerations were to ensure that the wonderful work done by Mr Howard, my predecessor, was carried on and built upon so that the young people in our care receive the very best education possible in order to have choices when they leave school and to be happy and fulfilled.
I am lucky in that I have the support of our trust - the Midsomer Norton Schools Partnership - and that I have been at the school for seven years and so am working with an established team built on mutual respect and a shared vision as well as wonderful students who it is a privilege to teach and lead.
Tell us a bit about your personal background Lynda and how you ended up being a teacher?
Goodness, that could be a long answer as I always tell the students that I am somewhere between 100 and 300 years old! I am from Liverpool originally but my dad’s job meant that we lived in lots of different places around the country which I found to be a very positive experience.
I was lucky enough to spend a gap year in Australia before gap years really existed and to spend five years living in California in my 20s. I worked in various other jobs before deciding that teaching was for me, although I’m not sure why really as I was the child that lined up all my cuddly toys (and my little sister) so that I could ‘teach’ them; the careers officer at school told me that I should be a teacher but, for some reason, I didn’t believe her.
However, I always have had an absolute passion for my subject – English – and it was always there waiting for me. Once I had completed my degrees in English and Classical Studies, followed by a Master’s in Medieval Studies, I realised that I had been getting myself ready to teach.
My husband says I am like a stick of rock in that ‘English teacher’ goes all the way to the centre of my being. I have never regretted doing other jobs first as it has given me a taste of the world outside of education, allowed me to develop all sorts of skills (students are always amazed at how fast I can type without looking at the keyboard!) and it has given me the gift of understanding what a privilege it is to teach teenagers and see them fulfil their potential.
What do you like about Glastonbury? How are you involved in the local community?
What’s not to like? I live about 15 miles away from Glastonbury but over the 25 years I have lived in Somerset, it has been a place I have enjoyed visiting – the Tor is so iconic isn’t it and, whenever it hoves into view as I drive to work, it lifts my spirits.
I think Glastonbury Abbey is one of my absolute favourite places in the world – it has its own unique atmosphere and sense of calm; just a few weeks ago a group of staff from school went to watch Macbeth performed in the grounds and it was magical; the perfect setting – right down to the ominous weather that chose to make an appearance!
Community wise, as I said, I don’t live in Glastonbury but St Dunstan’s is very much a part of the community – I would like to see it become even more of a community hub. Following lockdown one, we organised Christmas present donations for families hard hit by Covid – the community really rallied and we ended up with a huge table groaning under the weight of the donations; we were blown away by how everyone pulled together.
Earlier this year, five members of our staff ran the Glastonbury 10k to raise money for Asthma UK in memory of our student Amy Thomas and raised more than £2,000. Our Year 9 and 10 students took part in a Race for Life in school and raised more than £1000; Year 7 and 8 have had their run postponed until September because of Covid but we are looking forward to them taking part in this.
We have had donations of all sorts of wonderful things such as knitted worry monsters, plants from Morrison’s and planters made for us, lots of Lego, uniform that has been outgrown, money for laptops, stationery from Tesco and – most recently – we received four copies of Marcus Rashford’s book, to be given to students, from a well-wisher in the community. We are very grateful for all the support and really feel that St Dunstan’s and the community are well and truly linked; we plan to foster this community spirit in the future.
The coronavirus pandemic has been difficult for schools - how has it had an impact on St Dunstan's?
Well, it has taken hours and hours of preparation in terms of writing risk assessments, setting up hand sanitiser stations, reminders about distancing, etc. We also had to undertake training to set up Lateral Flow testing when students returned to school in September.
We also had to convert our Drama Studio into a testing site – no mean feat, I can tell you – I must commend Mr Oakwood, one of our assistant head teachers, for this as he was in charge and it ran like clockwork. We made the decision to go with year group bubbles which meant that each year group had their own area of the school and had all their lessons in that area which meant teachers travelled from class to class; it was really tough on teachers and meant they had to be even more organised than usual.
In addition, we had staggered break and lunchtimes while in school which meant extra duties for teachers and support staff to ensure students were safe. Added to that, during lockdown, we had to learn very quickly how to deliver online lessons be that through video recordings or live online teaching as well as supervising those children who were in school for a range of reasons e.g. being the children of key workers.
As always, all staff rose to the occasion and provided fantastic lessons and support for students. In addition to this, our students have been absolutely magnificent in terms of following the rules which has meant that we have had very few instances of having to send year groups home.
Of course, our Year 11 students have missed out on sitting their GCSE exams as well as having events such as their prom for the last two summers. As a school, we have been so proud of how they have coped with all of the changes – they have shown grace and fortitude in managing everything that has been thrown their way. We are all hoping that things can be a bit more normal for the new school year.
What businesses do you like and use in Glastonbury?
I am a great fan of Burns the Bread; their sandwiches are excellent and I am very partial to a Glastonbury Pasty! I also enjoy having a meal or coffee at the Hundred Monkeys and have purchased several lovely items from Glastonbury Galleries.
I have enjoyed pizza at Gigi’s and have had tea at the Abbey Tea Rooms. As I said earlier, I often visit the Abbey either for a wander or for specific events. I do love a wander down Glastonbury High Street as it is truly unique.
The lockdown has been very difficult for many people - how do you think that Glastonbury as a town has coped?
I think Glastonbury has shown real community spirit – I know there has been an army of volunteers helping people out during lockdown; the foodbank has been a great support as has the community fridge. I know that there have been volunteers clearing paths to make it easier for people to walk along the path beside the A39 as well as lots of litter picking and community events as we have emerged from lockdown.
I have also had experience of the Glastonbury Volunteer Group delivering presents and food hampers on behalf of the school. It’s really inspiring to see how people in Glastonbury and beyond have come together to support each other through this awful time.
If there was one thing in Glastonbury you would change, what would it be?
Can I be cheeky and have more than one? I would love to see a cycle path as I know that being able to cycle to school without being on the road would be great for our students.
I would also like to see more provision for young people in Glastonbury – the Red Brick Youth Club does a great job and it would be nice to see even more such clubs and opportunities; St Dunstan’s has teamed up with TLE Sports Coaching to provide holiday clubs and we are hoping to expand this partnership to offer activities out of school hours in term time; watch this space!
You have been a teacher for many years - how has the role changed over the years? What is the most important thing the government could do to improve education for secondary school students?
Improve funding for schools; it would be lovely to be able to provide more trips and enrichment activities – to take a trip to London, for example, you have to factor in around £1,000 for the cost of the coach before you begin to think about the cost of the actual experience and that can make such experiences difficult to offer.
I think reducing the workload for teachers is essential; their commitment to, and care for, their students is seriously underestimated – I see, on a daily basis, the difference that teachers make to the lives of their students and the significant pressures that the very heavy workload places on teachers. I am so proud of my profession and the efforts of my colleagues; I know how hard they work every day for every child in their care.
If you could choose one famous person to play you in a movie about your life, who would it be and why?
I’m a frustrated actor so I’d probably play myself! I feel like I have delusions of grandeur but, if anyone did want to make a movie and, if she were still here, I would have wanted the late, great Victoria Wood to play me; what an honour that would be!
In her absence, it would be amazing to have Olivia Coleman in the role; one of our national treasures in my opinion.
You can visit the St Dunstan's School website here.
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