There can have been fewer more deserving recipients of an MBE in this year's New Year's Honours list than Dennis Hardiman, Liverpool's longest-serving head teacher.
It is 34 years since Dennis was named head of St Sebastian's Primary School in Fairfield and his honorary MBE for contribution to education – honorary because he is a US citizen, born in Long Island – recognises his impressive work ever since.
He oversaw the coming together of St Sebastian's with St Cuthbert's Primary to form the city's first federation of schools, along with the establishing of an innovative nursery. The schools have earned many awards and now for Dennis, their executive head teacher, this 'humbling' personal accolade. "I consider this an award that belongs to others also – my patient, supportive, loving family, and wonderful and generous colleagues, past and present, whom it has been my privilege to work with and learn from," he says. "And also the many supportive parents and fantastic children I've been privileged to work with."
One particular person warranting Dennis's gratitude is the late Father Patrick Kelly, who appointed him the city's youngest head teacher in 1983. Father Kelly actually told him, "with a smile", that his appointment was "a calculated risk" yet the pair forged a partnership "built on respect, commitment and friendship" which proved hugely beneficial to school and community.
This was clear when over 700 people attended a Mass at St Sebastian's Parish Church to celebrate Dennis's 25th anniversary in charge in 2008 – one of many milestones. "It was the first Liverpool school to receive an outstanding report during Ofsted's first round of inspections in 1996," he explains. There have been three more since with the same outcomes, together with two trips to meet Prince Charles. Yet Dennis is "more proud of the fact the schools are considered by our communities and visitors to be caring, welcoming schools that, with their parishes, are the heartbeat of the communities we serve."
This success led to the Kensington Regeneration Company approaching the school to create a much-needed childcare facility, the Field of Dreams Nursery. Then, in 2006, came the federation with St Cuthbert's. Within three years Ofsted had given the two schools – who share a head teacher and board of governors – an outstanding ranking on leadership and management.
Dennis, 65, continues: "St Sebastian's was included in an Ofsted document sent to all primary schools in England called '20 Outstanding Primary Schools Succeeding Against the Odds 2009' and this highlighted the partnership with St Cuthbert's." From a school that was less than half full and under threat of closure, St Cuthbert's has grown to near-capacity because of its high expectations and reputation for supporting all children to reach their full potential; in fact, with the support of the Archdiocese, a new school could be built there in the coming year.
After making such an impact on education in the city, it is little wonder Dennis considers himself "an adopted Scouser". He was nine when, with his parents and 11 brothers and sisters, he left the US for his mother's native South Wales. Liverpool has been his home since he came to Christ College for teacher training. "Liverpool is where I have married and brought up my six children with my wonderful wife Jo," adds the parishioner of Bishop Eton, Childwall. It is only fitting, then, that it will be in Liverpool that he collects his MBE on 11 May, with his family and 94-year-old mother beside him.