HEAD teacher Mark Young will be breathing a sigh of relief as his final school bell tolls this afternoon — but he’s going out on a high.
The Eastwood executive headteacher (58) is bowing out of education after a 36-year career, during which he has turned around two schools and established another in Rotherham’s most diverse neighbourhood.
The newly-formed 180-pupil Eastwood Village School is now rated good by Ofsted, along with its academy trust members Coleridge Primary and East Dene Primary.
But back in 2015, when Mark began working in Rotherham full-time with the three Central Learning Partnership Trust schools, two had been told to improve by Ofsted and the other hadn’t been built properly yet.
Recalling the first day of term at the new Eastwood Village School, he says: “We started off with 40 children and the building wasn’t even ready yet.
“We had to meet children and parents at the community centre and walk them up to East Dene (primary school).”
At that time, 95 per cent of the pupils were Roma Slovak, a “mobile population” which means children are often moved around a lot and attendance can be poor.
But that walk to their temporary base would prove to be vital as it gave Mark the chance to speak directly — with the help of an interpreter — to parents about what was expected.
“I told them that their child must come to school every single day, we would care for them and they were here to learn and better themselves,” says Penistone-based Mark.
“If they didn’t come to school, I told them, I would be out there, knocking on their doors, something we carried out and still do now.
“This is our fourth year and we got the national average of 96 per cent attendance last autumn — so people say it can’t be done, but it can.”
Now, Roma Slovak children make up around 80 per cent of the roll call and the rest is a mixture of British, African and Asian.
Around 15 languages are spoken in total by pupils.
Asked if heading up such a diverse school was challenging, Mark confidently replies: “Not really”, adding: “If you consult with everybody about what you stand for in terms of respect for each other and you communicate it well at child, parent and community level, then people respect that.
Teaching has been adapted to be “very visual” to cope with the range of languages and new initiatives have been introduced by staff, including a summer school launched by inclusion manager Kath Beecham to ensure children practise their English during the holidays.
Mark began supporting the then-failing Coleridge and East Dene schools — than ranked among the country’s 200 worst performing — seven years ago when he was still headteacher at Sheffield’s outstanding-rated Birley Spa Primary School and had been made a national leader of education.
Parent support was top of Mark’s list of priorities, closely followed by ironing out key times of the day.
“Breakfast club was madness and playtimes were not well organised, there were fights and too much skullduggery going on,” he said, adding that he could now happily retire as “the schools don’t need me anymore” and there is strong leadership in place, with no new executive head to be appointed.
Mark, meanwhile, said he had someone else who needed his support, adding: “I’ve got an eight-month old baby and so I want to spend more time with the family and gain more life experience.
“Both my other kids, who are aged 27 and 29, have travelled more than me.”
“On my last day, I will be sad but relieved I got through it — 36 years!
“I’m just happy for my next challenge, having a rest and going on holiday in term-time, when it’s cheaper.”
Also stepping down from the Central Learning Partnership Trust at the end of term is Joyce Beighton (below, with Mark), who first joined as a teaching assistant at East Dene in 1992.
Joyce (63), of Moorgate, has worked in several roles within the schools and was most recently the clerk to the governing body.
She is now looking forward to spending time with her six-year-old granddaughter.
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