St George’s Academy’s new principal is home grown in every sense.
Laranya Caslin beat off a range of national candidates to take the reins from outgoing head Wayne Birks, having already been serving as the Academy’s Head of Sixth Form and one of its Vice Principals since 2012.
And she is Lincolnshire born too, admitting proudly: “I’m a yellowbelly! I was actually born at RAF Nocton Hall and lived at an early age in Heckington, Metheringham and Bracebridge Heath. I moved away but am now back to stay for the foreseeable future.”
She says she is excited about her new job: “I would never have been brave enough to put my hat in the ring had I not known that I would be well supported by staff, governors, parents and students. It’s such a lovely school in that respect and it’s also the great advantage of being the internal candidate. Furthermore, I’ve just completed a six month handover period by shadowing the retiring Principal – that’s been an invaluable insight.”
Mrs Caslin has been teaching since 1994 and this is her fourth school. She had previously been Deputy Principal at a fairly large school in Cambridgeshire. Whilst there, she also had an external role as the Lead Practitioner for Maths for the Eastern Region and coordinator for the team of 17 Lead Practitioners in Maths and Computing across England.
“That was an exciting role which enabled me to support some of the very best teachers in the country to drive innovation and train others,” she says.
Looking at what the future holds for the school under her leadership, Mrs Caslin commented: “It’s been a difficult few years in education with wave after wave of new qualifications, all of which have more content and more demanding assessment structures. We’re very lucky to have such a dedicated team of teachers who have been resourceful and proactive and we feel like we have weathered the storm well. I think we’re entering a period of refining and perfecting our new approaches.”
The academy now aims to strengthen areas of problem solving, literacy and speaking and test out strategies for effective independent learning. She is also keen to reach out to even more parents, feeder schools, charities, community groups and employers in the town.
On working with other town schools, she added: “I have the advantage of already knowing both Nick Law and Jo Smith at the two grammar schools from my role in the Sleaford Joint Sixth Form. We get on really well, which is a great advantage for us, but also for the town and surrounding area as a whole. I think it’s quite rare to have every secondary school in a town working harmoniously together for the greater good – sometimes we forget that.”
She praised staff as holding the students’ best interests at heart: “In terms of the students, I think that the vast majority appreciate their opportunities and want to do well,” she said. “The vast majority epitomise our academy values of respect, teamwork, tolerance, opportunity, ambition and excellence. We’re immensely proud of what they achieve, not just in terms of their educational outcomes, but in terms of their achievements in talent areas of sport and music, where we regularly make national finals alongside grammar and private schools, and in terms of their contributions to society through things like our sizeable Duke of Edinburgh Award contingent, Combined Cadet Force and the fact that we are a Gold Award School for the National Citizenship Service.”
Some may be daunted by St George’s Academy’s vast size and pupil population, spread across two sites at Sleaford and Ruskington, but Mrs Caslin said it was like a ‘Tardis’ in reverse. “At first sight it is a really big school, but once you belong to it, it quickly seems much less daunting. So many visitors are struck by the warmth of the place,” she said.
“There are great advantages to its size in terms of the flexibility and opportunity we can offer, but we are mindful of it too and make some specific decisions to support the Year Sevens in particular. For example, they have their tutor rooms all in one block which becomes their base block. At break and lunch, only Year Seven can use the toilets in that block so they don’t need to be daunted by the idea of meeting a big group of older children in a confined space. That said, there’s no shortage of older children who are keen to show them where things are.
“Only Year Seven and Eight are allowed on the front playground and basketball court at break and lunch so that they don’t feel overwhelmed. They also have a separate food kiosk that they can queue up at. We also invest extensively in pastoral support staff. We’ve got the biggest SEND department out of any comprehensive in the county, non-teaching key stage managers, family support workers, student mentors and school nurses.
“For those who feel that the Sleaford Campus is really too big, we’ve obviously got our much smaller Ruskington Campus which has a very close-knit community feel where everyone knows everyone. You’d be amazed at how quickly the Year Sevens settle.
“The parents generally worry more – but that’s their job, we understand that because most of us are parents too.”
She said it went without saying they were “very disappointed” that planning inspectors had rejected their appeal to build a new swimming pool and fitness suite: “We maintain that it would have enhanced the overall sport and recreation facilities for the Academy, but our motivation in pursuing the case was equally for the great benefit that we could see for the town of Sleaford and the surrounding area.”
On a final note, she had already written to all parents, delivered assemblies for all the children and made presentations for all staff, saying: “They have my assurance that I will lead by example for my colleagues and students alike and that we will strive to live by our values.”