Lowestoft school’s sad farewell to children’s champion

Head teach of Roman Hill Primary School, Sandra Batley is retiring.

Head teach of Roman Hill Primary School, Sandra Batley is retiring. - Credit: Nick Butcher

When Sandi Batley first stepped inside Roman Hill Primary School, she was only planning to have a quick look around.

But that 'brief visit' to Lowestoft in 2004 led to her staying on and becoming its headteacher – and now she is planning to bid a fond farewell to pupils and fellow staff after nearly a decade at the helm.

Over the last nine years, Mrs Batley has helped the school improve from a satisfactory Ofsted rating and almost being put into special measures to being rated outstanding in every category during its last inspection.

She has also overseen a major period of transition for Roman Hill, which doubled in size to 500 pupils last year after the closure of the town's middle schools as part of Suffolk County Council's review of education.

That saw the school move from its old site in Love Road to its new home in Avondale Road.

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Mrs Batley, 64, who lives with her husband at Friars Quay in Norwich, will return to the school part time next year to mentor acting headteacher, Jackie Etteridge, who is currently the school's assistant head.

With her extra free time, the mother-of-two hopes to take on voluntary work, travel more and visit her daughter and four grandchildren in Brisbane, Australia.

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Mrs Batley said: 'I think it is fair to say I will miss it a great deal. I have loved my career here. Education is a passion but I have particularly loved Roman Hill. I didn't intend to stay so long.

'I think I said at first I would give it five years but it has been nearly 10.'

Mrs Batley started her teaching career in Lincolnshire in 1971. She went on to become a headteacher at a school in Essex and was on a tour of schools in Suffolk when she visited Roman Hill Primary while governors were interviewing for a new headteacher.

The school's acting chairman of governors, Jenny Henwood, said they had been looking for a headteacher for a year and had persuaded Mrs Batley to apply for the role.

She said that as soon as they had interviewed Mrs Batley, it was clear she was the right person for the job.

'I said 'we have got to have this lady',' Mrs Henwood said. 'I could see what she was made of. She is such a common sense type of person. At the time the school was failing because we hadn't been able to appoint a new headteacher.

'Sandi has proved herself all the way along the road. There have been lots of challenges but she has bounced back.'

Mrs Henwood said the school came close to being placed under special measures a few weeks after Mrs Batley took up her post but the lead Ofsted inspector recognised her vision and passion for the school and awarded it satisfactory status instead.

She said Mrs Batley had been a 'true children's champion' and would be very much missed.

Fellow school governor Brian Keller echoed her thoughts and described Mrs Batley as the 'powerhouse of the school'.

Since becoming head, Mrs Batley has worked to improve attendance, encouraged staff to work together so that the whole school operates as one team, and persuaded parents to become more involved.

She has also created three classes in each year group so children benefit from smaller class sizes and has operated an open-door policy, allowing pupils, parents and staff to speak to her at any time without an appointment.

Mrs Batley said goodbye to parents during a tea party at the school on Wednesday and will have a leaving barbecue tonight at the Ivy House Hotel.

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