Interview with Mrs Katrina Carroll BEd, the Headteacher at Oakfields Montessori School, Upminster

How long have you been a teacher, which school were you at previously?

Teaching is my passion and it has been my career now for nearly 18 years and I have loved every minute despite the many challenges that I have encountered.  Actually, I relish a challenge!  My former position was as Deputy Headteacher at Ardleigh Green Junior School, an outstanding school in Hornchurch, where I have had the opportunity to absorb lessons shared by the inspiring Headteacher John Morris – very much a Local Leader of Education – who two years ago was awarded an OBE for services to education.  I have learned so much from him which will be invaluable to take with me to the next stage of my career.

What was it that initially attracted you to the idea of working at Oakfields?

With my drive for ongoing improvement in education to an outstanding level during my 5 years at Ardleigh Green clearly demonstrated, the perfect opportunity arose for me to realise my ambition to be a Headteacher.  My various positions have allowed me to teach from Foundation Stage up to Key Stage 4 – more recently teaching within Years 3 to 6.  I have taught children in preparation for both Key Stage 1 and 2 SATS.

What are you most looking forward to about your new position?

A fresh challenge and to realise my ambition; I see the role of Headteacher as a natural stage in my development as an education professional.  I don’t believe in standing still and strongly believe it is important to regularly challenge the way we do things in order to enhance working practices and ensure outstanding education is delivered to all children regardless of their ability.

What are you hoping to bring to the role – what’s your vision for Oakfields?

I am passionate about the core qualities of active leadership and relish the opportunity of embedding a culture of empowerment, people growing and innovation amongst the teaching staff at Oakfields.  It will be an honour to be in the position to support all stakeholders as we embrace change, whilst striving to uphold outstanding teaching and learning opportunities for all.

As part of the Cognita Group of Schools – the largest Group of Independent Schools in the UK – my vision really also has to be to create an environment where the children flourish so that they achieve more than they believe they can.  I sincerely believe that at Oakfields they can!

There’s lots of mention of a ‘holistic’ approach to education – can you expand upon this a little?

All children are unique and should be treated as such.  Educators must give heed to each child’s physical, social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing as well as cognitive aspects of learning.  They should not be divided up into learning areas, learning styles, intelligences, creativities or attitudes as they are all of these things, all of the time.  I believe it is essential to ensure that categories are not used to divide children into neat little bundles as this can actually detract from their learning.  Children must be seen as individuals and be allowed to develop as such.

I notice a mention of Oakfields’ ‘forward-thinking ethos’ – what skills are you looking to equip your students with?

Equipping our children to be successful in a world that is constantly changing; developing their resilience, creativity, their critical thinking, communication and collaborative skills so that they persevere and remain flexible and able to adapt to change in a positive way and as a part of life.  Who knows what jobs will be out there when our current Reception Class leave University; our children need to develop the skills to deal with whatever life throws at them.

The ‘outstanding’ rated Kindergarten – clearly a source of real pride for the school, how do you continue to grow and improve?

Oakfields Kindergarten is very much part of the whole school.  In such a fast moving world, it is essential for the staff to develop and grow themselves, and to keep up with current developments in education, which are ever changing.

Extra-curricular activities mention sports, music, languages, arts programmes?

Mandarin, athletics, archery, art club, basketball, non-contact boxing, cricket, cookery, chess, tennis, gardening, hockey, Lego, swimming, Melody Bear, netball, football (Chelsea), tag rugby, the extra-curricular activities on offer at Oakfields is ever-changing and extensive.  We have peripatetic music teachers who offer keyboard, string, woodwind, drumming and guitar lessons being available alongside the regular music curriculum.  In addition, there is the opportunity for the children to take part in music concerts and various performances as well as at our end of year show to showcase their talents.

Harwood Hall – a Grade II listed building – so it’s a beautiful place to learn, as well?

Yes, Harwood Hall really is a stunning building, built in 1782.  I am determined to learn more about its history – with the help of the children, of course!  Set in a conservation area, its spectacular grounds, including the Kindergarten orchard, swimming pool and hardcourts, extend to in excess of 7 acres.  I’m not sure the children realise how lucky they are to learn and play in such amazing surroundings.

Oakfields Montessori School – a former Day Nursery – moved to Harwood Hall in 1993 when only a few classrooms were occupied but it quickly grew into a successful and thriving school.  Oakfields became part of the Cognita Group, a leading international schools group, in 2007 and from that time significant investment has been made into its upkeep so that it now forms a truly inspirational school environment; listed buildings can present challenges of their own of course as I have been learning!

What is it that sets Oakfields apart from other schools?

In addition to the beautiful setting and convenient location, Oakfields boasts small class sizes whilst providing an extensive range of opportunities to ensure all our children achieve the highest grades whilst developing their other talents; whether they are in music, sport or creativity – or simply an individual with a wide range of interests.

With individualised learning and specialised teaching staff, our children progress to top tiered schools.  More recent destinations include Brentwood Independent, The Coopers’ Company and Coborn School, Epsom College, King Edward Grammar School for Boys, New Hall Independent, Southend High School for Girls (Grammar) and Cheltenham Ladies’ College.