Brookvale’s deputy headteacher and inclusion leader, Jenny Maskell, on creating life chances
The head asked me where I’d like to be in five years’ time and I replied that I wanted to be a deputy. It actually took four and a half.”
Giving up has never been an option for Jenny Maskell. The focussed deputy has overcome a number of personal challenges to become a teacher. This determination to succeed is what drives her – and the pupils at Brookvale, where she has worked since 2010.
“Our children are aspirational. We teach them that they can be anything they want to be, to push themselves. Whatever your background is, you can achieve your ambitions,” says the former nursery nurse turned deputy headteacher.
“The pupils love hearing about real-life stories, so I tell them about how I always wanted to be a teacher.”
Once-upon-a-time a five-year-old Jenny taught a class of willing teddies (and a less enthusiastic younger brother). It is a classic tale that many a future teacher can write – but in Jenny’s version, the beginning is far from storybook.
“I had a difficult home life,” she says. “But I loved school and the teachers inspired me to believe in myself. Even today I’m at my happiest when I’m teaching the children.”
Creating a path into teaching
Jenny left school with her GCSE qualifications, but was not able to take the traditional route into teaching at that time. Instead, she created her own path, starting in an early years setting and progressing to a teaching assistant.
“I’m very self-motivated,” Jenny points out.
She took the final step towards teaching while working as a higher level teaching assistant at tough school in Handsworth.
She says: “I was doing lots of teaching work, like marking and PPA (planning preparation and assessment) so I decided to start my teacher training.”
A bold move for somebody who was working full-time and with two children under the age of two.
“It was challenging, but I had great family support from my husband and mother-in law. They knew it was what I had always wanted to do and helped me to achieve that,” says Jenny.
After completing her degree by evening, the Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) secured her first teaching position. Brookvale Primary School, a one-form entry in Erdington, shared Jenny’s ethos of providing children with the best life chances.
Because of my background, it’s always been important for me to work somewhere where I can make a difference and to give children the best start through great teaching.
From the moment I stepped inside Brookvale, it felt like home. The children were inquisitive and everybody was friendly – it had a real family feel.”
She had already pictured her future at the school. Jenny recalls: “The head (Jonathan Smart) asked me where I’d like to be in five years’ time and I replied that I wanted to be a deputy. It actually took four and a half.”
When Brookvale joined the ATLP in 2012, Jenny had completed her NQT and NQT plus 1 years to become KS1 phase leader.
It was a very exciting time. Outstanding members of staff were coming into the partnership and there were more opportunities – it was great to see how people could progress. There is power in the partnership and you can see that potential. If one school succeeds then we all do.”
Jenny soon escalated to assistant headteacher and acting deputy headteacher. Now deputy headteacher (and inclusion leader) she has been performing the role for two years, alongside fellow deputy Anna Trigg. “The time has just flown by,” she says.
“Sometimes I ask myself how I got here, but I’m always hard on myself because I like to do well for the children I’m working with.”
To support her professional development, Jenny completed the ATLP’s respected Aspire to Headship programme (pictured with Anna Trigg and Jonathan Smart, second left) and the National College’s Aspiring Leader course. She is also part of the ATLP’s deputy headteacher group which meets regularly to share ideas and best practice.
Jenny took part in a peer review at neighbouring ATLP primary, Slade, working alongside Dr Beth Clarke, headteacher of the partnership’s Hill West School. Jenny says: “It was a great opportunity to learn from somebody who is making such a difference – she’s so knowledgeable. The partnership is full of great leaders and we are building on this all the time, there are lots of good people coming up.”
Likewise, Jenny is using her leadership skills to coach and develop talent across middle leaders. She is also in the classroom one day a week at Brookvale, working alongside an NQT.
“There are always opportunities here. Jon and the team have been very supportive. We’re a really close knit school and everybody pulls together for the good of the children.”
Jenny is working to make Brookvale as strong as possible. Superb results in phonics testing have seen the primary placed in the top two per cent of schools nationally. With results of 84 per cent, the school also sits 15 per cent above the national average for GLD (good levels of development) a government measure of attainment at the end of reception.
Pastorally, the school is also making progress. As lead for SEN, Jenny is working alongside Brookvale’s new pastoral lead, Steven Hale, who is on secondment from fellow ATLP primary, Mere Green. She is also keen to strengthen links with parents and children who speak English as an additional language.
We work in an inclusive environment where we try to meet the needs of every single child.”
Jenny’s dedication led to her being shortlisted for ‘Aspiring Leader’ at the ATLP’s ‘Outstanding in Education Awards 2016’. In his nomination, Jonathan Smart described Jenny as: “A fair, considerate person who listens and attempts to solve issues. A hard worker with many roles: Jenny has many qualities that make her an aspiring leader. Organised, calm, willing and keen to help. A wonderful role model and an exceptional leader of the future.”
A world of difference
Jenny is also proving to be a wonderful role model to her own children (now 13 and 11). At a recent secondary school parent’s evening, one teacher revealed how proud Jenny’s son Tom is of his mother’s success.
Jenny says: “They see how happy I am. Every day I go off to school, not to work.”
The communication between staff and families at Brookvale is just as positive, Jenny adds:
“We have fantastic parents and children and great relationships with them all. I received a beautiful card from a former pupil and it read: ‘you don’t realise the difference you make – be proud of what you do.’
“And that is why I still love everything about teaching, because you can make such a difference. It was something that I always wanted, that I never gave up on and if I wasn’t a teacher, then I wouldn’t know what else to do!”