Former Sutton St James Primary pupil is now the head teacher

Head Claire Willows pictured with pupils on their wacky hair day. SG260517-100TW
Head Claire Willows pictured with pupils on their wacky hair day. SG260517-100TW
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A small community primary school in South Holland has played a pivotal role in the life of Claire Willows.

It was there that Claire, then a pupil, learned to swim, passed her 11-plus to go to Spalding High School, and studied for her NVQ in childcare and education when she took a year out after A-Levels.

Sutton St James head teacher Claire Willows. SG260517-102TW

Sutton St James head teacher Claire Willows. SG260517-102TW

During that year, her then mentor at the school, Sandra Horsfield, inspired Claire (40) to pursue a career in teaching.

So where else, when she became a head teacher, would Claire like to be?

Nowhere in the world except the school that feels like home, Sutton St James Community Primary.

“It’s a real privilege to be here because I love the school,” says Claire. “The school is fantastic, the children here are amazing and there’s an incredible team of staff.”

The school is fantastic, the children here are amazing and there’s an incredible team of staff.

Head teacher Claire Willows

Claire was a pupil at the school from the age of four to 11 and remembers milestones like learning to swim in the outdoor, unheated pool, and school trips to Barry Island and Anglesey.

She says: “I remember the summer fairs and being called ‘the handkerchief girl’ and having lots of handkerchiefs pinned to my dress, which people used to buy.”

Aside from school, Sutton St James was a great place to grow up.

“I had a very full childhood,” said Claire. “I remember being able to go out in the streets and fields to play, and building dens and those kinds of things.”

Head Claire Willows pictured with pupils on their wacky hair day. SG260517-100TW

Head Claire Willows pictured with pupils on their wacky hair day. SG260517-100TW

There are some reminders of those carefree childhood days because familiar faces that were around when Claire was a pupil are still there, including school administrator Rachael Gadsden, who was in a different year group.

There have been some big changes at the school, with new classrooms added and the old pool long gone, and the school has both feet in the 21st Century technological and digital age rather than having one computer per class.

But the biggest and most welcome change, achieved by Claire and the dedicated team of staff, is taking the school up in the world, leaping from Ofsted’s “requires improvement” to “good”.

Hitting Ofsted “outstanding” is the next target in sight.

The latest upward move has seen pupil numbers rising from 94 to 105.

Claire said: “I would love to see the school get to ‘outstanding’.

“I would like to see the number on roll increase so that all of the children from the village attend this school because it has such a lot to offer them.

“The greatest joy for me is seeing the children do well and I also enjoy watching the newly qualified teachers progress.”

A key finding recorded by Ofsted is: “The highly-motivated head teacher has relentlessly recruited high-quality teaching staff.

“Her commitment to their professional development has improved the quality of teaching in the school.”

Claire insists rising standards at the school have been achieved through teamwork, with dedicated staff, and supportive governors and parents all working towards the same goal.

While the head describes the children as “amazing” Ofsted say: “Pupils are keen learners and frequently show their positive attitudes and good behaviour. They quickly respond to teachers’ comments and help themselves to improve.”

Ofsted also say: “Pupils personal development and welfare is outstanding.”

Claire qualified as a teacher from Nottingham Trent University in 2000 and her first teaching post was at Monkshouse Primary School in Spalding.

She joined Sutton St James Community Primary in January 2014, working alongside the executive head of Monkhouse until she was made the substantive head teacher in April 2015.