After 15 years at the helm of John of Gaunt Infant and Nursery, head teacher Fiona Chant is retiring, but she will definitely be remaining active in Aylsham.
Fiona came to Aylsham from a deputy headship in Hertfordshire back in 2002 and time working in Borneo and (the less far flung) Northamptonshire.
“Norfolk and Suffolk were always counties we loved and had ambitions to move to, both for the coast and for the lifestyle,” she said.
“John of Gaunt was the first headship I ever applied for and I was delighted to be successful in that application.”
When she arrived, Fiona found she was asked to build bridges and links with the community and, 15 years on, she is immensely proud to know that that is exactly what she and her team have managed to do.
“This school is at the heart of the community and has great relationships with parents.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, but for me it’s time to go.”
Fiona and Vanessa Scargill, from Aylsham High School were two of the pioneers of The Aylsham Cluster Trust (TACT), which was designed to improve the education of children and families in the area.
“To have a formalised partnership is very unusual and that is something which gives me particular confidence as I get ready to retire from the headship,” said Fiona.
“We wanted to set up a system which was sustainable and didn’t rely on an individual strong personality to work.
“Jamie Olney, the recently appointed Head of School at Bure Valley School, applied for the post partly because of the partnership and support of other schools within TACT.”
The TACT family learning day is another example of the type of family engagement which Fiona rates highly. She describes it as an opportunity for parents to understand how schools work and how they can get involved in their children’s learning.
So does retirement mean feet up and cruises? Unlikely, it would seem.
“I will continue to be involved with TACT and contribute to the School Direct teacher training programme, as well as take on the junior vice presidency for Aylsham Rotary Club,” she said.
“We have a new puppy and a family, including grandchildren. I’m a very enthusiastic gardener, traveller and scuba diver.
“So no, I won’t be twiddling my thumbs and I will still be very involved in the Aylsham community.”
And a final word about Fiona’s replacement, Clare Toplis: “I’m so pleased both for her and the school. She will build on a successful school and make it even better. There was a very strong field for the role and she was certainly the best.
“There is a fantastic team of teachers, teaching assistants and support staff here and our staff retention is very high, which I hope tells its own story.
“Clare will also be supported by Duncan Spalding, executive head teacher; Jo Tuttle, business and community director from the Aylsham Learning Federation; and of course the strong governor board, chaired by Mike Downes.”
Mr Downes thanked Fiona for her many years of running the school and said: “During Fiona’s time at John of Gaunt, she has constantly striven to improve the education of every child in the school and given them the best education possible.
“So many children have left this school with a fantastic start to their educational journey and a love of learning.
“The school has developed into a vibrant and supportive community in which everyone feels valued and secure. So many families owe Fiona and all the staff a debt of gratitude for the way they have given their children a love of learning, security and individual attention unmatched anywhere.”