New head teacher at St Mary’s RC Primary School in Chiswick wants pupils to be able to speak up for themselves

Image above: Elizabeth Keane, Head teacher of St Mary’s RC Primary School, Chiswick, with some of her pupils

New head teacher Liz Keane shares her vision for the school

St Mary’s RC Primary School has a new head teacher. Liz Keane joined the school in Duke Road in September and is already making her mark. She says she has received a very warm welcome, and she is described by parents as “a breath of fresh air.”

The school received an Ofsted inspection during the summer term and is classed as ‘Good’, with an ‘Outstanding’ score for pupils’ personal development. Under the leadership of previous head teacher Joan Harte, Ofsted inspectors concluded:

‘Leaders have high aspirations for all pupils at St Mary’s. It is a friendly and inclusive school. Pupils are proud to come here and feel supported.’

They noted: ‘The school provides exceptional opportunities for pupils’ positive personal development.’

Image above – St Mary’s with the playground in the foreground; photograph Andrea Carnevali

Teaching leadership

Ms Keane told The Chiswick Calendar she regards personal development as just as important as a child’s academic progress. She is keen to instil in St Mary’s children that they can be “the leaders of tomorrow.

“If a child is happy and settled they will achieve their full potential.”

On the table in her office are posters about inspirational leaders for Black history month – women such as Mae Jemison, the first female Black American astronaut, and closer to home, Dr Maggie Aderin Pocock from Camden, “a space scientist who was dyslexic as a child and struggled at school, but is now one of our most eminent space scientists”, and Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, Emeritus Professor of Nursing at the University of West London, who grew up living in a Catholic children’s home run by nuns.

Although it is important for children to learn about outstanding historical figures such as Mary Seacole, it is also important for children to realise there are role models in their local community, says Liz. Opportunities to develop leadership skills within the school include being a Year Six monitor or a member of the School Council.

(I remember that at my secondary school. Every meeting we asked for soft loo paper instead of the hard, shiny Izal stuff, which was quite good for use as tracing paper but not fit for purpose in our humble opinion, as it was non-absorbent and actually quite prickly. Every meeting they said ‘no’. I hope for the sake of the children of St Mary’s their School Council is more of a listening and reactive body).

Image above: Liz Keane taking an assembly; photographs Andrea Carnevali

On Liz’s agenda – teaching children how to express themselves with confidence

Liz’s first initiative, which she has already introduced in the first half of the term, is a new focus in the curriculum on oracy.

“I want public speaking to be embedded throughout the curriculum. We have a ‘Big Talk’ assembly, performance poetry, debates, TED talks.”

“Being able to express themselves well verbally also feeds into children’s writing and develops them as critical thinkers”, she says.

Studying Philosophy is important, even for young children, so she sets ‘Big Questions’ for them to think about – the kind of question in which there is no wrong answer, such as: ‘Is it better to be clever or kind?’.

How does she handle issues such as the war between Hamas and Israel?

“We will be praying for peace”.

Being a Roman Catholic school, the curriculum content has a Catholic ethos and is approved by the Westminster diocese.

“There is an emphasis on the dignity and importance of the individual” says Liz.

Part of the Catholic life and mission is promoting charitable giving. The school has just held its harvest Festival and has taken a “huge” collection of food to the local church, Our Lady of Grace and St Edward, for distribution though Hammersmith & Fulham food bank.

“That is something I want to do every half term, not just for Harvest Festival. I recognise that families are under pressure during school holidays.”

She welcomes Sadiq Khan’s introduction of free school meals for all primary age children and would like to be able to introduce a Breakfast Club at the school.

“We don’t do that yet, but it is on my list.”

Also on her list is teaching children to examine their feelings and learn how to regulate them. Rather than just dealing with the consequences when a child kicks off, her aim is for them to “understand their emotions, to talk things through and to learn how to come to resolution themselves.”

Image above: St Mary’s overview; photograph Andrea Carnevali

Opening the school to the local community more

The school is on half term this week (23 – 27 October) and is providing a holiday camp run by Brentford FC Community Sports Trust, whose trainers also provide sports tuition during term time. For £175 (or £38 per day) parents can sign their children up for a range of activities which include football, basketball, gymnastics, rounders and tennis.

This is something Liz is planning to open out to the wider community, making the school’s holiday camps available to other children in future, not just those who go to the school.

She herself has a musical background; she plays the piano, harp, guitar (and flute “very badly”). There are specialist music teachers who provide piano, violin, viola, drums and percussion lessons (paid for by parents) and in the second half of this term she is planning to establish an orchestra.

Not musical or sporty? Children can also benefit from a range of opportunities in the Little Engineers, Street dance and Lego club, or they could learn Italian.

In an area such as Chiswick, where all the schools are rated ‘Good’ (and in Grove Park Primary School’s case, ‘Outstanding’) St Mary’s stands out because it’s a Roman Catholic School, but it also sounds like it might be a fun place to spend your childhood.