THERE can’t be many headteachers in the North-East who have spent a third of a century at the same school, but step forward Jackie Gent, headteacher at Bishop Barrington School.
Jackie started working life at the Bishop Auckland school as an English teacher back in 1982. “This school is part of me. It is very much a family school. I have taught a lot of the current intake’s parents and probably some grandparents now,” she jokes. Thirty-three years on and she is understandably proud of what has been achieved at the school in the intervening years. “I have seen real change. There is no comparison between the school then and now,” she says.
The figures speak for themselves. Despite having a significantly above-average number of students who are claiming free school meals, an impressive 74 per cent achieved at least five A* to C GCSE passes including English and maths, or equivalent, last summer – and 84 per cent of all candidates achieved an A* to C in English. “The first year I worked here it was probably only about ten per cent that passed five GCEs, so we have come a long way,” says Jackie. “One of our mantras is progress from day one. The levels of progress our students have achieved is stunning. For example, over half of our children made four levels of progress in English, with 84 per cent making three levels of progress. When a child steps through our door in year seven we go all-out to maximise their progress,” she says. Rated by Ofsted as good, with outstanding teaching, leadership and management, Jackie says Bishop Barrington, above all, is a friendly school.
“When visitors come in they talk about the warmth of the place. Even Ofsted said you have got something really special here.”
Unusually, for a 21st Century head, Jackie still teaches a GCSE English class. “I do think it is important that the staff see that you are prepared to get your sleeves rolled up and have the same pressures as your teaching staff. I love being with the kids. It is the best part of the job,” she adds. She says the success of the school is very much due to the hard work and effort of her staff. “I am absolutely blessed in having a great team. I am really proud of the staff. There are a lot of young teachers and the levels of pride and enthusiasm are exceptional. My problem is stopping them doing too much.”
It doesn’t take long in Jackie’s company to realise that she really thinks teaching is the best job in the world. “Teaching is such a privilege. You see those kids come through the door and you have the joy of helping them to mature into lovely young adults,” she adds. Jackie’s successful career in teaching is all the more remarkable because of the obstacles she had to overcome as a young woman. “I married very young, at 18. By the time I was 21, I had two young children,” she says. Despite her commitments to her young family, she was determined to pursue her studies. “I got the A-levels I needed and then did my B.Ed honours degree at Durham University, travelling in from Crook every day on the bus.” She is proud that Bishop Barrington remains part of the family of local education authority schools at a time when many schools have opted for academy status.
“When we needed support in the early days, the advice County Hall provided to help us was invaluable. I will never forget that,” she says.
Five Minutes with Jackie Gent
FAVOURITE North-East building and why?
DURHAM Cathedral. I never cease to feel that sense of awe and wonder whenever I visit.
WHAT was your first job and how much did you get paid?
SATURDAY job in Woolworths. I can’t remember how much I was paid, but as it was the 1970s it was very little.
WHAT is the worst job you’ve had?
PROBABLY the Saturday job in Woolworths. It had its good points, though, especially the camaraderie of the shop floor. I also remember that the canteen was quite good.
WHAT would you cook for me if I came for dinner?
LASAGNE or a roast dinner.
WHAT would your superpower be?
TIME travel would be interesting, especially being able to see the future educational landscape.
NAME four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party.
ALISTAIR Campbell, John Lennon, Mike (our school’s deputy head) and Shakespeare. What a combination.
WHO is the best person to follow on Twitter and why?
I DON’T do social media. I signed up to Twitter, but I have never used it.
PRIDE and Prejudice. It is so witty and beautifully observed.
MOST expensive thing you’ve bought, other than car or house?
A SAFARI holiday in Kenya. It was good value, though, at £6,000 for four of us.
WHEN did you last cry?
DURING the standing ovation for one of our pupils who achieved amazing GCSE success during the year of her mother’s terminal illness. The student was so strong and brave and focused on making sure that her mam would have been proud of her. There is so much to learn from young people like this.
YOUR greatest achievement?
ALL that our school has achieved in terms of results, outstanding teaching and outstanding leadership and management. I am blessed to have such a wonderful, talented and committed staff.
THE best piece of advice in education you have been given?
ALWAYS make sure the kids come first.
FAVOURITE animal and why?
DOGS as pets and tigers for their beauty.
WHAT was the last band you saw live?
A BON Jovi tribute act. My daughter is an avid Bon Jovi fan so I went with her. I love dancing to live music so we had a great night.
YOUR perfect night in?
A NICE meal and drinks with my family. My six grandchildren make it lively, but special. Again, I am blessed to having such a loving family.
WHO would play you in a film of your life?
JULIE Walters I think.
WHAT irritates you?
INTOLERANCE and selfishness.
WHAT is your secret talent?
I DON’T have one. I wouldn’t keep any talents secret. I would show them off.
IN another life I would be...
I CAN’T imagine a life other than my own, so I would probably want to repeat it, but without some of the sad times.