'I always look for the good and the positive in everything and everybody,' says Kate Peaston when asked for the secret of her success as a head teacher. 'Everyone says I'm an open person as well and my door's always open. Staff know they can come and tell me things and we'll work together to resolve any problems. There's no point in having a blame culture – you've got to do things together.'
Kate is speaking to the Pic to reflect on the Primary Head Teacher of the Year prize that she received at last month's School Awards for Liverpool Archdiocese – reward for her impressive impact on the fortunes of St Clare's Catholic Primary School in Wavertree.
Her arrival there as head, in September 2016, came eight months after the school went into special measures. By Christmas 2017, those measures had been lifted. 'I couldn't have done it by myself,' she says. 'It was having the staff supporting the decisions and changes – they didn't say no to anything and we changed nearly every process.
'It was definitely a team effort and I'm so lucky to have the deputy head and assistant head that I have here,' she adds with a nod to her deputy Vin Yates and assistant head Gwen Pilkington.
A parishioner at St Paul's and St Timothy's in West Derby, Kate had previously been deputy head teacher St Anne's Primary on Overbury Street, having been fast-tracked for a leadership role upon deciding, belatedly, to pursue her vocation as a teacher. 'My background was marketing,' she explains. 'I came into teaching when I was 25. In my NQT year I was put on the government fast-track programme to accelerate potential leaders to headship. The rest is history really.'
Or, for St Clare's, a brighter future. A former pupil at Broughton Hall and St Edward's College, she believes her degree in Public Service Management has helped her meet the challenge of running a school. The changes effected at St Clare's have been far-reaching.
One important step was to strengthen the bond between school and community. 'We started having parents involved a lot more. We've had a lot more assemblies and reintroduced sports days – things that made the parents feel welcome. I was holding coffee mornings with the parents and carers of the children, getting their feedback, and being visible around the grounds before school and at the end of the day.'
If this meant doing paperwork after hours – 'There've been times I've been emailing at midnight,' she notes – it was worth it. 'You do it because you want your best for the children. They just have one chance.'
She also changed the curriculum to ensure 'real-life experiences' for her pupils. 'We have so many children that don't speak English as their first language so we have to make sure the children are experiencing the real-life aspect of learning. We took early year children to the beach and, for some, it was the first time they'd actually been to a beach.'
Reading has been another priority. 'We've completely changed the curriculum for reading and you see the children all the time with a book.' This has involved introducing DEAR time – children and staff, she elaborates, 'drop everything and read' for 15 minutes each day and 'this has had huge impact on their writing as well'.
Her own impact cannot be overstated, though she will not be resting on any laurels. 'I'm always striving for better for the children. The job is not done in any way. We might have got "good" at early years but the next goal is to get "outstanding". It never stops.'