'Being a head teacher is a great privilege'

By Simon Hart

'I turn 40 this year and I'm having a crisis – I need a convertible!' Phil Bates, it should be stressed, has his tongue firmly in his cheek. After all, July will not just bring his milestone birthday but also the conclusion of an immensely satisfying first year as head teacher of St Anne's Catholic primary school in Ormskirk.

'Our choir has been established, the number of children receiving music lessons has increased dramatically, and our children take care of our school grounds with our parents to develop their understanding of caring for our world and society,' he says, listing some of the positive steps taken already since his arrival from St Gregory's in Preston.

His 15 years in teaching had previously taken him to schools in the dioceses of Salford and Lancaster and it was during his last post as head teacher at St Gregory's that his old school's leadership team earned an 'oustanding' accolade from Ofsted. It says much about the relationship built up during six years there that St Gregory's governors allowed him to spend two days a week at St Anne's from September 2017 before he began his new role in a full-time capacity in November. This is a teacher for whom relationships evidently matter – hence the 39-year-old can be found at the school entrance each morning greeting parents and pupils. 

'Yesterday we had 35 parents join our Year 2 children to help make puppets, they came in all afternoon,' he says, offering another example of his efforts to forge the strongest possible sense of community. 'I'm very aware of the wider scope of the role of head teacher involving the school, parish and community and the impact that one person can have across so many is a great responsibility to have – sometimes daunting, sometimes very challenging but always a great privilege. It's a joy to be able to help in any way you can to shape the lives of our future generations.'

As a father of four himself, he wants these young lives to be lived with the broadest possible perspective. 'Our children are children and they deserve a childhood – this is a primary school, it's not a university,' he says when noting the activities going on beyond the classroom. Thanks to the presence on his staff of a professional musician, James Cairns, the number of children taking private music lessons has climbed to nearly 20; the number in the school choir, which meets every Friday evening, is over 40.

The school grounds, meanwhile, are adorned with colourful displays of flowers that pupils planted before Easter. 'Part of the curriculum was looking at growth and we have at least 50 flower displays and planters which the parents helped our children make.' To enhance this appreciation of the world around them, he continues, the Year 4 class 'have taken responsibility for the outdoor prayer area and part of that work was repainting all the benches and tidying up this special area'. If that is outside the school, inside he is overseeing the conversion of the old staff room into a multimedia learning zone, encompassing a library and IT suite along with classroom renovations. 

All in all, then, a busy first year at St Anne's and life, you suspect, is no less busy when he is not at school. 'If I had any free time,' he jokes when asked about home life with his wife Helen and their family. 'I have four children who range from 7
14. With my younger children we enjoy climbing at West View leisure centre in the winter and days together in the great outdoors during the summer'.

Aiming high, it seems, even on his days off.