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Meet our leaders: Helen Palmer

Helen Palmer, Headteacher at Queensbury Academy in Dunstable, recently celebrated her one-year anniversary at the school after taking up the post part way through the school year in November 2022. Here she gives us her reflections on the year that’s passed and what’s on the horizon for Queensbury.

What have you enjoyed about your first year as headteacher?

I would have to say the children - they are incredibly passionate when they believe in something.  Coming from Dunstable and having lived here my entire life, apart from while I was at university, working for a school in your local community just hits a bit differently too.

I am passionate about the development of the town and the young people here are its future.  While I think it is important to encourage children to broaden their horizons and go out and explore the world, they also need to know that great things can come from a local school.  When you work in the community you grew up in there’s a connection that you can’t replicate elsewhere.  People can’t tell me much about Dunstable that surprises me!

One of my highlights from last year was opening our doors to the over 65 community in Dunstable and supporting our town council with their Big Lunch.  Our catering and hospitality students baked an afternoon tea, including sandwiches, scones, cakes and brownies and were responsible for serving it, and our music department entertained our guests with a wide range of musical numbers.  We had over 50 delegates who had an absolutely fantastic time.  I'd like to do something similar for Christmas this year, and really open our doors to the community much more.

What is something you are really proud of achieving in your first year?

I am really proud of our new pastoral system, which focuses on the physical and emotional welfare of students.  To ensure that children behave well during lessons and unstructured times, they need to have good mental health as when they don't, that can sometimes manifest in their behaviour. 

I dug into our resources, how they were being allocated, and what issues our young people were facing and came up with a new system.  Before pastoral leaders were teaching staff, but now we have five Heads of Year who are not teaching staff, which means they are available throughout the entire day and can build great relationships with children and their families. 

The Heads of Year are supported by three Heads of Key Stage, who are all teachers.  They are there to keep a close eye on academic outcomes for children, and I am keen to ensure that all our students are achieving their full potential.  Creating this new system has meant that we can better support children with any behavioural or emotional needs and that there are more people around for students to talk to.   

I am also delighted with the refurbishment that has taken place in the West building.  It’s like a new school over there. I am seeing how students treat it differently and it’s changed the way they feel about coming to school. 

I never expected to be a headteacher while having a young family, but having my first year under my belt, I can see that not only can I do it, I am hugely enjoying it!

Helen palmer, headteacher, Queensbury academy

What are your plans for the future?

I just want to keep improving the quality of the education we are delivering and raising aspirations.  We have made some changes to the curriculum and the quality of the teachers we have in the building this year is amazing.

All teachers just want to make sure their students can go on and follow whatever path they desire, and improving outcomes is at the core of our conversations every day.  Making sure children achieve what they need to, so that all doors are open for their future, is our bread and butter.

I am also excited about the refurbishment works starting in the East building.  As discussions around these started when I took up my post, I feel like I've helped shape the vision for them and I can’t wait to see it come to life.   

Has anything surprised you about your first year?

In all honesty, the biggest surprise for me was taking on the job in the first place!  I never expected to be a headteacher while having a young family, but having my first year under my belt, I can see that not only can I do it, I am hugely enjoying it.

It’s a point I’ve been making to students, actually. Just put your mind to it - you never know what you can achieve!