Schools across Lancaster and Morecambe wave goodbye to heads

Several schools across the Lancaster district said farewell to their headteachers as the summer term drew to a close.

By Gayle Rouncivell
Tuesday, 27th July 2021, 3:45 pm
Willow Lane head Mel MacKinnon with children foraging for raspberries.
Willow Lane head Mel MacKinnon with children foraging for raspberries.

Six heads were vacating their roles, leaving their schools in good hands after many years at the helm.

In Lancaster, Mel MacKinnon leaves Willow Lane Primary School and Alison Aylott leaves Scotforth St Paul's, while in Morecambe everyone at Morecambe Bay Community Primary School and Torrisholme Primary School said goodbye to Siobhan Collingwood and Sue Penney.

Slightly further afield, Cathy Thomas stepped down at Ellel St John's and Jackie Cookson left Cockerham Primary School.

Sue Penney at Torrisholme Primary School's recent festival day.

Mr MacKinnon has been at Willow Lane since 2015. He is now heading into a change of direction with a move in to conservation and forestry work.

He said: "So much has happened since then with implementing the current national curriculum, developing a team of brilliant teaching staff, leading the school from Requires Improvement to Good, enhancing the school grounds to offer more learning opportunities and successfully navigating the pandemic with as little as possible negative impact.

"I am proud of the journey the school has been on, including the curriculum we offer and the outcomes this leads to for children.

"If you were to walk though our corridors with me you'd pick up on the buzz of excited learning noise, be impressed by the quality of the writing and artwork on display and then we'd head outside where we would see children at planting and harvesting in the allotments, developing their communication skills in Forest Schools and experiencing hands on science in our new science garden ponds.

Siobhan Collingwood is leaving West End Community Primary School.

"Our motto is 'teach the heart' and who wouldn't be excited by and want to learn or teach in a setting like this?"

Mr MacKinnon said he has enjoyed being 'the key decision maker' in providing experiences which can have a lifelong effect.

"At our school we know that education can have the impact to change lives and we know that the meaningful experiences help embed learning as well as create new hooks for future learning," he said.

"Our children climb mountains, create robot sculptures, pond dip at Leighton Moss, sing beautifully, create gifts for the community and...again the list could go on....not just because these are fun things to do (they are) but because these things bring a curriculum to life.

Alison Aylott is leaving Scotforth St Paul's after 18 years.

"Only by engaging with these hands-on experiences will we lay the foundations for the next generation of scientists, teachers, firefighters, ecologists, pilots and actors.

"All schools provide an education and even as a teacher I'm amazed at the different ways we all fulfil this purpose.

"There are many changes that I am proud of having seen the impact they have had on children's lives.

"Two that spring to mind are the Singapore-based maths mastery approach. A visit to a classroom sees children of all ages writing their thoughts down on the whiteboard tables whilst proving their thinking with physical resources and explaining it with excellent maths language.

Willow Lane deputy head Sarah Fish is also retiring.

"Outside of the classroom our school grounds have really developed with an angle on both the physical and mental benefits of being outside.

"All our children plant, harvest and cook and our grounds have wild spaces - developed by the children - which include native trees, bird boxes and even a resident hedgehog.

"The current generation of children are far more aware of the need to look after our planet and it has been a joy to work with them on practical ideas to do this.

"Schools are an exciting place to not only learn but also to work and I will miss the great colleagues at our school and being the driving force in deciding the direction that children's learning should pursue.

"Above all though, I will miss the children. Lockdown showed us many things but one thing it really demonstrated is that a school without children just isn't the same.

"They are the most important people in any school and their engagement, their effort, their singing, their pride, their joy...the list could go. These are the things that make a school special."

Mr MacKinnon thanked the numerous people who have supported him through his time at the school.

"Throughout my headship, I have felt well supported by colleagues, the authority, governors and the community, and this has helped drive through improvements," he said.

"One special mention must go to Sarah Fish, our deputy headteacher, who has been so committed, hardworking and dependable in everything she has done.

"She is retiring from education this year and our school and the profession will miss her. A school couldn't have asked for a more committed, hardworking and dependable deputy.

"Willow Lane is part of a cohesive and supportive cluster of schools and together they are involved in a number of initiatives for all the children in the Lancaster and Morecambe area.

"Lucy Naylor will be taking over as headteacher as she starts her first headship and we have worked together so it really does feel like passing on the baton.

"She will be supported by Duncan Webster as deputy headteacher and I wish them, the children and the community all the best for the future."

In Morecambe, Siobhan Collingwood was among those stepping down.

Mrs Collingwood has been at Morecambe Bay Community Primary School for 17 years, and has seen the school through many changes.

"First and foremost what sticks in my mind is the people I have had the privilege to work with and for," she said.

"We have built an amazing team and everyone comments on the happy atmosphere in the school, It's a special place.

"We are called a community school and that's exactly what we are. Whatever it takes to support the community and to help the children be successful.

"Every member of staff and every member of the community goes above and beyond to do their bit for the children and it's been such a privilege to lead that team.

"Covid has bonded us even more than before, from helping with food parcels to keeping in touch with people and making sure people are safe and OK and being mindful of being there for each other. It's been the biggest positive of Covid, that pulling together of the community.

"We have built up such a network of support in the community. So many people go into making our school the success that it is, and so many people do things for us on a voluntary basis, including the governors who give their time for free and work tirelessly to support the school.

"We have to be part of that community. Whatever its challenges, we have to rise to what the community needs. It's a diverse community with all sorts of levels of need.

"We have got a strong team of governors and teachers and community spirit. The school couldn't be in a better position. It has amazing resources and facilities and it's a really lovely place where people are happy and that makes me feel proud.

"But above all is the delightful children; they just give love by the bucketful and really appreciate what their teachers do for them. I will really miss.just seeing their faces bouncing into school.

"Just that joy of learning and being together, the wholehearted enthusiasm they have, it's been such a privilege to work here"

Mrs Collingwood will now be working three days a week with Lancashire Violence Reduction Network, and as an executive of the National Education Union.

The new head will be Sue Taylor, from Barrow Primary School in Clitheroe.

"I am leaving the school in good hands," Mrs Collingwood said. "I am also very grateful to my headteacher colleagues who have always been there for me. We have got a really good group of headteachers who are really supportive."

Meanwhile at Torrisholme Community Primary School, Sue Penney is retiring after 20 years at the school.

Mrs Penney was previously at Ryelands and West End as well as a school in Blackpool before becoming head at Torrisholme in 2001.

She will be replaced by Kathryn Pym from a primary school in the Ribble Valley.

Deputy headteacher Sarah Price said among the highlights of recent years are Ofsted rating the school as Outstanding in 2016.

Sue has also led some major building work at the school, as well as a big move from one form entry to two form entry.

"One thing Sue is proud of is our work on the curriculum," Mrs Price said. "We are quite unique in that respect. Our curriculum is constantly developing and evolving to fit the children."

For the past seven years Mrs Penney has also been working as an associate adviser for the county council, advising other headteachers.

She is also a trustee of More Music Morecambe.

Mrs Penney will now be working part-time for the council's monitoring and intervention team, as well as spending time with her family, including looking forward to more grandma duties, with one granddaughter and another on the way.

Before the end of term, the school held a festival day when the children performed songs and dance routines, as well as a whole school 'flash mob' dedicated to Mrs Penney.

"We have got a fantastic and really supportive school community," Mrs Price added. "We have had a lot of lovely messages and donations for Sue, she's very well thought of."