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Stowmarket High School’s new interim headteacher Lucie Hernandez talks to SuffolkNews about her aims and her measure of success

“We have an open door and want to be challenged.”

Stowmarket High School’s new interim headteacher Lucie Hernandez has joined the school with the aim of bringing about improvements following the last Ofsted inspection – and welcomes scrutiny - but also raising students’ aspirations and developing kind and resilient people.

Ms Hernandez, who takes over from the previous head Dave Lee-Allan, is based in London where she has a track record of helping schools to improve.

Stowmarket High School’s new interim headteacher Lucie Hernandez. Picture: Mecha Morton
Stowmarket High School’s new interim headteacher Lucie Hernandez. Picture: Mecha Morton

Before taking on the role at Stowmarket High, she was deputy head at Barnhill School in West London and prior to that she was assistant head at Haverstock School in Camden.

She comes to Stowmarket with a background of working in challenging London schools on the improvement journey.

Students’ behaviour, provision for children with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) and personal development are particular areas where she has made her mark.

Stowmarket High School’s new interim head Lucie Hernandez said the school was ‘definitely’ improving. Picture: Mecha Morton
Stowmarket High School’s new interim head Lucie Hernandez said the school was ‘definitely’ improving. Picture: Mecha Morton

It was while at Haverstock that she set up a behaviour hub to support students at risk of exclusion – ‘to make sure students weren’t becoming a statistic’ – and this was then rolled out across Camden.

Stowmarket High School is also on an improvement journey; Ofsted rated the school ‘requires improvement’ after the inspection in January this year and the watchdog also gave the same overall judgement in 2018.

In January, inspectors flagged up issues with some pupils’ behaviour, they said some teachers had not got to grips with the best way to teach pupils or check what they know, and said some teachers did not support the needs of pupils with SEND well enough.

Ms Hernandez, who started at Stowmarket High in September, said the school was ‘definitely’ improving, adding a school improvement board is in place.

While her role at Stowmarket High was originally for two terms, up until April, she said it had been extended until July 2024. Advertising for a permanent head will start in the new year.

On joining the school, Ms Hernandez said: “It’s about thinking I can offer something to a school and the staff and students and parents deserve that ambition and drive, which I think comes more naturally from a London school because the pace is just a different level.”

Lucie Hernandez has a background of working in challenging London schools. Picture: Mecha Morton
Lucie Hernandez has a background of working in challenging London schools. Picture: Mecha Morton

She has brought her experiences to Stowmarket, and said the challenges were similar, such as improving outcomes for those marginal students who are struggling, perhaps because of undiagnosed SEND needs or lack of provision or lack of opportunities and aspirations.

“I think that’s a big thing I have identified here is lower aspirations on education – it’s not as yet cool to be clever and it’s building that emphasis on students wanting to be better and taking up opportunities,” said the headteacher.

She added: “This is an 11-16 school as well so it’s about making sure we have instilled those aspirations in them as young as possible because we don’t get to see them when they are making those big choices which is what they do in sixth form. So it’s about making sure we have really developed them, and their moral compass as well.”

She is about being approachable and visible and, among the changes she has brought in, parents will be aware of the move back to face-to-face parent events this academic year.

Ms Hernandez said parents had been ‘desperate’ to get into school to speak with staff face-to-face – and there are lots of plans for the year for how parents can engage with the school.

“Relationships are built on lots of things and we want to build them on mutual respect and communication and that isn’t always easy to do over emails,” she said.

She added: “We have an open door and we want to be challenged.”

Building on the foundations in place, Ms Hernandez said she had brought in curriculum changes in a short period of time - and she is keen to make sure there is a pathway for after school, making sure there is a purpose behind their choices.

She said: “It’s a strong curriculum and there is breadth in the curriculum, but it’s also making sure it’s really personalised now.”

Lucie Hernandez’s time as interim head at Stowmarket High has been extended to July. Picture: Mecha Morton
Lucie Hernandez’s time as interim head at Stowmarket High has been extended to July. Picture: Mecha Morton

There is also much that goes on beyond the curriculum and school day; life experiences and memories ‘that will last forever’, such as the prom charity event.

In terms of behaviour, she said they were working on this at school and have looked at their links with alternative provision to make sure their curriculum is best fit for their students.

She said: “There are lot of mental health issues in Suffolk and obviously not enough resources and it is about thinking outside of the box about how we can keep these students in education and thinking differently about what that looks like. For all of us that doesn’t look like period one to six every day, and it’s being open and honest with conversations with students and parents.

“We want every student to get to Year 11 prom and that means adaptations need to be made because we are still facing the consequences of Covid and mental health is through the roof, however external resources don’t match that need.”

On wellbeing, at school there is the Oasis centre, which offers mental health support and counselling for students, and they have links with external organisations.

In terms of whether mental health or special needs was behind any behavioural issues, she said: “We have kind of streamlined our response to behaviour to make sure that we are very consistent. Is there actually a SEND need, is there an emotional need, is that not being addressed? We are consulting each other and challenging ourselves to make sure is anything missed, are there any gaps?”

She said their behaviour system was not just about sanction or reward, but about finding the root of the issue.

In terms of SEND, she said they had overhauled the ‘pupil passports’, which are the strategies teachers who work with that particular student can use, and were working closely with Suffolk County Council’s SEND department.

“It’s very much forward thinking about speaking to people outside of the school about what [resources, strategies, research] is out there, what information don’t we know about,” said Ms Hernandez.

“And because of the position of the Ofsted we are very honest with the level of scrutiny that comes with [that]. We have had several monitoring visits.

“We are very open to school visits and school improvement and staff are very much on board with the journey.”

She said the aims she came in with – around strong relationships and routines, teaching and learning to accelerate the quality of education and assessment for achievement – were always pinned on a strong positive culture.

Her mantra is ‘work hard, be kind’.

“I’m very confident that we can deliver and improve on those outcomes, but my measure of success actually is that they are good people and that they are kind and respectful,” she added.

Her measure of success is also students overcoming and learning from their mistakes, their resilience and their personal skills and aspirations – and being able to challenge when necessary.

She said school was a safe environment to make mistakes, but tolerance, respect and kindness were not a negotiation.

Of her time at Stowmarket High she said: “I absolutely love it, I love the challenge.

“I don’t see this as a temporary job – even if it had a timeline of April – I want this to be a better place when I leave it whenever that should be, no matter what.”