‘I came to the school 21 years ago as a supply teacher so I know lots of the families – children I taught are now some of the parents of children we’ve got. It may be time to move on!’
Paul Loughran has his tongue firmly in his cheek as he reflects on his longevity as a teacher at St Michael’s Catholic Primary School in Halton – after all, there appears little threat of the 54-year-old overstaying his welcome given his recent accolade as Primary Head Teacher of the Year.
That prize came his way at the Archdiocese of Liverpool School awards in May and if he felt ‘a little bit uncomfortable’ about the individual attention, his efforts in bringing school and community together in his five years as head certainly warrant praise.
‘We try to engage with our community as much as possible,’ he begins. ‘The community where the school is located is quite a deprived area of Widnes and we have a high percentage of disadvantaged families so we’re keen on ensuring our children get out and experience what’s going on in their local environment.’
Examples of the activities that also earned St Michael’s a place on the shortlist for this year’s Contribution to the Community award are plentiful, starting with the involvement of ‘about 25 of our Year 6 pupils’ in the Halton Mayor’s awards scheme. ‘They have to do so many voluntary hours of helping in the community,’ Paul explains. This included visits to a local care home, litter picking and even random acts of kindness to strangers in the street. It is an endeavour that involves the help of a pastoral team, led by Stef Lockley, who work hard to build relationships. ‘It’s very important to get the community on side and home and school working together.’
He adds: ‘I just want the children to have the best educational experiences that they can and that’s not just about the academic side. We look to look after the whole individual – academically, socially, pastorally. I’m aware of this area and how hard it is for young people growing up – I came from a similar area myself in Bootle and my parents instilled in me that whatever you do, you do it to the very best of your ability. I’ve taken that on board as a head teacher.’
For Paul, who spent three years studying and coaching football at Southern Illinois University in the United States and has an involvement as a coach and scout with Everton’s academy, physical exercise is important and every pupil at St Michael’s takes part in the ‘Daily Mile’ after registration each morning.
He elaborates: ‘We have an area that circles the school and they are asked to run, walk, jog – whatever they want – for 10 minutes. If they run for the full 10 mins they’ll complete the mile but it’s not about completing a mile, it’s about a healthy start to your day. When they come back inside, they’re actually ready to learn and those with excess energy have got rid of some of it.
‘Another initiative we’ve recently started is linked in with the national schools breakfast programme. We’re the first school in Halton to introduce it. It’s with money taken from the sugar tax and because of our high levels of deprivation we’re able to provide every child with breakfast every day.’
They get plenty else too – from extra-curricular club activities including art and music to an hour’s Spanish each week from the age of four. The overall goal, he notes, is a simple one – and highly admirable: ‘I want the children to become good citizens of the future.’