Absolutely catches up with Gretchen Copeman, the new Head of Oaklands School in Loughton, to discover why this was a role she just had to take
What was your background prior to becoming Head of Oaklands School?
I have taught almost all primary year groups in my career and have experience working in both the state and independent sectors. Most recently, I was Deputy Head of Braeside School, another member of the Oak-Tree Group for children up to 16.
What attracted you to the Headship at Oaklands School?
The opportunity to lead a successful school such as Oaklands comes along very rarely. My entire career has been devoted to teaching. To be able to say I really do love my job is fairly unique and many people don’t have that luxury. No day is the same and each comes with its own challenge, but in my new role I am able to inspire both teachers and pupils to take risks, aim high, take on new challenges and progress.
Remaining in the Oak-Tree Group of Schools was particularly important for me. We have the best of both worlds as individually we are smaller, nurturing schools and then together we share ideas, pool resources and compete on a much larger scale.
Were there any immediate challenges you faced?
Not really, as I already knew many of the systems and processes the school uses and my handover spanned the entire Summer Term. It has been a pleasure getting to know the Oaklands community.
How would you describe the school?
Oaklands is a long-established, family school with an outstanding reputation that has been in the hands of the Hagger family since 1982. It continues to be a very popular choice for many parents in the local area.
The children here are happy and enjoy learning. We instil a strong sense of self in our pupils and this enables each one to succeed. We also have beautiful grounds and make extensive use of them with outdoor activities, sports and Wild Woods lessons and clubs.
What are you looking to develop at Oaklands?
My ethos is based very much on creating courageous, honest children who are unafraid to take risks and believe in themselves. I encourage all pupils to aim high and to be curious about the world around them, asking questions every step of the way. I also firmly believe that children should understand that failure is also part of learning and being resilient in all aspects of life is essential.
What do you offer at Early Years?
Oaklands has a large, thriving Early Years department. Each year group has its own rooms and dedicated outside play areas so they can grow and develop as they move through this phase of their education. Early Years children learn through play and we have a large team of highly skilled staff who are experts at providing opportunities for children to learn both in the classrooms and outdoors.
How does the curriculum evolve from there?
Children progress through Key Stages 1 and 2 in smaller than average classes. This ensures that all children have a voice in the classroom. Our teachers are supported by an army of teaching assistants so we can support the children further individually or in smaller groups. We have created an exciting curriculum that allows us to tailor our lessons to meet individual needs.
What would we find in a typical classroom?
There is a buzz of activity in our classrooms with children working in pairs, groups or individually. Our displays are interactive and the children use them to access additional information. Most of all in our classrooms you will see children excited to learn and engaged in inspiring activities.
How has the new school year gone so far?
Like every academic year, this one is flying by! Pupils have settled back into their new classes and progress can be seen in all year groups. We have given out numerous awards in assemblies and our many sports teams have competed in a variety of fixtures. The families, children and staff have been so welcoming that it feels as if I have always been at Oaklands.
We have already been on several trips, had visitors in our assemblies and welcomed our families to numerous events. Like many primary schools, we are now planning for Christmas with a number of seasonal performances.
What are you looking forward to in the months to come?
We have so much to look forward to this year. We have many events, performances and competitions throughout the year. Many Year 6 children will be going on our ski trip at Easter next year and I can’t wait to hear about their adventures. We have other residential trips later in the year too, providing many opportunities to be independent and learn new skills. We also have many sporting and musical events this year for children to challenge themselves and showcase their talents. Watching the children grow, learn and achieve so much will be wonderful.