Pupils and staff at Horsham’s Forest School are saying a fond farewell to headteacher Siobhan Denning.
Siobhan, 62, is retiring this summer after 11 years at the school which has undergone a complete turnaround under her care.
When she was first appointed the school was about to go into special measures. “It was not a happy place and there were great problems recruiting people who wanted to work at Forest.
“The children had lots of supply teachers and there was a general atmosphere around the school that was not good.”
But within two terms Siobhan and her team had turned things around and won a ‘good’ rating from Ofsted inspectors. “It was a huge relief,” said Siobhan.
One of the major changes she made was the introduction of ‘vertical tutor’ groups where the school was divided into four smaller communities, mixing age ranges together from Year 7 - 11.
“It comes from the independent school sector based on ‘houses’ but it works on breaking down the bullying culture. We have managed to create a culture where the boys look out for each other and it is a much more caring school.
“A fellow head teacher came round once for a visit. He had also been head at an all-boys school. He was really surprised because he expected there to be a testosterone-charged atmosphere, and there just wasn’t. The boys are polite, respectful and enjoy their learning.”
During her headship, Siobhan has played a leading role in the ongoing Worthless Campaign aimed at obtaining more Government funding for schools in West Sussex.
But the underfunding remains a concern. “We have to take 80 extra pupils in September because of a bulge going through Horsham. I am worried where they are going to go. We don’t have the resources to afford all the things we would like for them.”
Siobhan began her teaching career at Steyning Grammar School before moving on to Chichester High School for Boys. She then became head of performing arts faculty at Angmering School and was then promoted to deputy head at Priory School, Lewes.
She was later head-hunted by the Department for Education on a course to train people to be head teachers in challenging situations. She worked at Portsmouth and Crawley before moving to Midhurst Grammar School then on to Forest in Horsham.
“The school is very different now,” she said. “But it is not just down to me, it is also down to my senior leadership team and all the teachers who are fully committed to the Forest vision, and the governors.” She paid special tribute to chairman of the governors Cliff Purvis.
Of the boys, she said: “The school is made by the children that are in it. We are a comprehensive school so we have a real range of boys with 99.999 recurring per cent of them being absolutely lovely. I have been enormously proud to have been their headteacher over the years.
“They are just a great great bunch of boys and young men. I guess if there was a legacy I wanted to leave it would be that each and every one of them has good memories of their time at Forest.”
Although retiring as headteacher, Siobhan says she is ‘not retiring from life’ and plans to take a post graduate course in leadership coaching.
She is also looking forward to spending more time with her husband Richard Goodman who is also retiring from his role as deputy head of school at the University of Brighton.
The couple, both keen cyclists, are planning a cycling trip to the south of France on a custom-built tandem.