Effective Headship

with Prudence Barnes-Kemp, Executive Head-teacher, Opposum Federation

Prue Barnes-Kemp fell into teaching because she was 'fascinated by children's literature and the pure joys of reading to a group of children while seeing the expressions on their faces…'

Since arriving to the UK in 1993 from Melbourne Australia, Prue has had and a remarkable impact on education across Essex, and Waltham Forest, not to mention preparing new leaders for Head-ship in Australia, Chile and various other countries.

Prue rides her bicycle between 3 schools, has a dog called Robert (who appears to be an embedded part of school life) and has successfully created clear systems & structures that help her schools embody what I would describe as ‘Effortless Effectiveness.’

As Executive Head of the Opposum Federation, Associate Lead Adviser for School Effectiveness Plus for Essex Education Services (EES) and Head of the Virtual Leadership Academy for Essex, Prue attunes much of her success to;

Having a highly skilled team of staff who are all attuned to the core aims of the federation; To work in partnership and ensure all pupils in their care receive the best education possible.


I was inspired to meet with Prue this month to discuss her routes to success as an executive head of a cluster of effective schools:

Tell us about Newport, Dawlish and Oakhill in terms of where they were when you started working with them and where they are now in terms of their progress.

Newport was in the bottom 5% of the country and in special measures. However, in 2013 we were the first school either primary or secondary, in the south of Waltham Forest, to become Outstanding.

Dawlish was federated and was on a serious downward data trend however we are aiming to be graded outstanding on our next inspection. The combined attainment when we arrived for level 4 was 48% and in a year we have moved it to 75%.

At Oakhill; I worked with the previous head-teacher to support him in moving the school from Good to Outstanding. We soft federated with the school and I have been Executive Head teacher since September 2014.

What have the key benefits been of the federation of schools?

Being able to have a wider impact on education and seeing the direct impact of that. As a result we’re able to strengthen what we can offer to Newport, Dawlish and Oakhill Schools and thus have a deeper impact on the learning and development of the children and parents we serve.

For example, as a result of the consultancy work that I do with various schools, we are able to fully fund MAs for members of leadership, in addition to offering various benefits such as travel allowances to teaching staff.

We’ve been in education for 12 years and there has been a lot of adaptations… What do you think has been biggest change in education over the last 12 years?

Autonomy of school leaders once they demonstrate effective leadership. Although I report to the various bodies, I very much manage my days and my time.

You’ve been working with J and C since 2013 – tell us about what you enjoy about working with J and C and why the partnership has been important to your schools…

I love the absolute professionalism and the passion for the subjects taught is enthused upon the children. Having skilled practitioners who absolutely love what they do is vital for children to develop the skills to their full potential.

I’ve never had staff contracted from an external organisation that have been so professional in their attitude and work ethic. The team are always punctual, fully committed to the school vision and go above and beyond to ensure pupils make continuous progress.

How do you feel J and C Academy have supported in terms of raising attainment?

Ah! The impact has been significant. The range of sports is excellent and the pupils are actively engaged; which shows in our success at sports competition and our AFPE accreditation for outstanding PE.

What advice would you give to a new head-teacher say who wanted to follow in your footsteps and become an effective executive head-teacher?

Avoid u-turns… Have a clear vision and set of values that you work within and ensure everything delivered by yourself and your team fall within that vision. It’s all about knowing what’s best for the children in your school and ensuring complete compliance towards the achievement of that goal.

To find out more about the Opposum Federation or Prue’s Consultancy work:

Email - school@newport.waltham.sch.uk

Find the Opossum Federation on LinkedIn

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