A true child of Peppard, Gillian has had a very varied path to her current role as Headteacher of Checkendon CofE Primary school. She attended Peppard CofE Primary school, which she loved, before going on to Chiltern Edge School and then King James College, now Henley College.
Unsure of what she wanted to do, she left school and had a year off; not exactly a gap year although it ended up as one. She decided that she wanted her future career to be in education, so she went to the University of Worcester to read English and Psychology.
Still not quite ready to settle down, she applied to the VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) where she had a placement to teach at a large girls’ boarding school in Nigeria. At the end of her two-year stint, she returned to Liverpool to study for a Postgraduate Certificate in Education. A passionate advocate of state education, Gillian’s first experience of teaching in the UK was at a community school in Warrington.
She then taught in Somalia; it was before commencement of the civil war, but she says that she still experienced some ‘hairy moments’. It was all a terrific experience for her, if a little daunting at the beginning: she taught and ran, single-handedly, a school for children of the employees of the Booker Tate sugar company factory.
In Somalia she met Giuseppe, her future husband. An Italian biologist, he was setting up a health care project for an aid organisation. Before they left they had decided to get married. As he spoke English and Gillian lacked Italian, they decided to return to the UK and married a year later.
It was right at the end of the summer term when they returned and the Oxfordshire schools had already broken up but the Berkshire schools were open two more days. Gillian found a job at Bradfield CofE Primary school – her first experience of teaching in a CofE school. Giuseppe, meanwhile, found a job at Amersham International, a renowned biotechnology company.
Even having three children did not stop her. When her children were young she did a lot of supply teaching in both Peppard and Sonning Common primary schools and also had a job-share with another teacher/Mum.
Eventually, in the early 2000s, she worked part-time for a new Headteacher at Checkendon Cof E School. It was a wonderful opportunity as she was able to work part time in a job-share with the Headteacher whilst her children were small. As they grew older, she went full-time, and, in 2012, she became the Assistant Headteacher when the, then, Headteacher was promoted to Executive Head of the combined Checkendon and Stoke Row schools. During this time, Gillian undertook another post-graduate Certificate in Special Education Needs and then a Masters degree in Education. Finally, in 2014 she was promoted to Headteacher and, this year, gained the National Professional Qualification for Headship. The role is very demanding and she finds she works a full five days plus time at weekends and she chuckles as she explains that being Headteacher doesn’t mean just sitting behind a desk; she still teaches but also, because of lack of staff, if there is a blocked lavatory it is Gillian who dons the rubber gloves to sort it out.
Eventually she studied Italian and recounts how, when she took her GCSE, she had to sit the exam at Abingdon Boys’ school surrounded by teenage boys. The family go to Italy most years – to visit Giuseppe’s parents in Rome and to visit other parts Italy. Their children, a son and two daughters, are all totally bilingual. By co-incidence, her children all have some involvement in education and, indeed, her oldest daughter, a teacher, is currently working temporarily at Checkendon.
Concerned about recent UNICEF findings that the UK is 16th in a report on children’s well-being (first place is the Netherlands), Gillian, not being one to rest on her laurels, is investigating the concept of ‘risky play’ in primary schools.
Will she ever stop or slow down, I wonder? Possibly not – when someone loves her job s much as Gillian, why stop?