UP CLOSE: Brian Walton, head teacher at Brookside Academy in Street

  Posted: 14.09.21 at 12:49 by Tim Lethaby

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Street Nub News aims to be supportive to every element of the village's community from business and shops to people and charities, clubs and sports organisations.

We will be profiling some of these businesses and organisations regularly in a feature called 'Up Close in Street'.

Brookside Academy in Street has had an unusual year, with many challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the children are now settling back in to the autumn term.

In a rare spare moment, we caught up with head teacher Brian Walton to find out how he has found being a head teacher during the pandemic lockdowns, and how he came to do the job that he does, given that he left school with no qualifications.

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Tell us about your career leading up to being head teacher of Brookside, and what were the key considerations about taking on the role?

Brian Walton when he appeared on Good Morning Britain

I started teaching back in 1995 and became a head teacher in 2003. Brookside is my third substantive headship, having worked in Bristol and London as well.

At the time of applying I was thinking of headships in Singapore (feeling it would be an exciting time to move with a relatively young family). As soon as I saw the advert for Brookside though I knew that I could not let the opportunity pass me by.

We had always planned that we would settle down somewhere near the Somerset Levels and my wife’s family are from Wells and my dad lives in Godney – so a school like Brookside seemed like a one off opportunity and one I have never regretted taking on.

Tell us a bit about your personal background Brian and how you ended up being a teacher?

I never planned on becoming a teacher. I struggled a lot at school and left with no qualifications. I then met my wife who was doing A-levels at Bridgwater College at the time.

I knew that if I didn’t do something I would lose her and after my record shop in Burnham-on-Sea failed I went to Bridgwater College. I tried to get on an access course (for more mature students – I was about 20) for a Batchelor of Arts degree, I was laughed out of the interview.

Leaving and feeling dejected, a door opened across from the door I was leaving and a lady called Leslie asked if I was there for the interview to enrol on an access course for a Batchelor of Education.

Education had never once crossed my mind. She spent an hour convincing me to join the course and the rest, as they say, is history.

What do you like about Street? How are you involved in the local community?

My dad moved to Street when I was about 18. When I was younger I never appreciated the access we have to natural beauty of such stunning variety on our doorstep.

I cycle a lot and am never happier than when on the levels, or on top of the Mendips. Street is such a well-balanced village with access to the best countryside you could wish for.

As a head teacher there has always been a great link between schools and the community – though this has been challenged recently due to the pandemic.

I miss those big events such as the Over 70s Christmas Lunch we had provided for years (such lovely people); or Christmas carols at the local church. Hopefully we can have those days back soon.

The coronavirus pandemic has been difficult for schools - how has it had an impact on Brookside?

The pandemic has been so hard on so many of us. I am grateful that we have managed to offer support throughout but it has taken away some of the things that make schools extra special.

I cannot wait for a time where our focus is on education first. We have been really well supported by our community and this has helped us to keep going but many things, that we often took for granted, have fallen away due to regulations and balancing guidance with people’s expectations. Having people safely on site for events again will be warmly received.

What businesses do you like and use in Street?

I haven’t visited the Geeky Gamer yet but as an avid board game fanatic it’s good to see that Street has a shop dedicated to all things board game. I also love Greenbank and though my children probably feel too big for it now I really hope to see it up and running fully again.

The lockdown was very difficult for many people - how do you think that Street as a village coped?

I really feel that we have coped as well as anyone. My community have been incredibly supportive and though it is impossible to keep everyone happy all of the time I have found that people's patience, compassion and care has been outstanding on many occasions.

If there was one thing in Street you would change, what would it be?

I like independent vinyl records; a good record shop would be a must visit for me.

You have been a teacher for many years - how has the role changed over the years? What is the most important thing the government could do to improve education for primary school students?

The role is almost unrecognisable from when I started back in 1995. Expectations on teachers and schools is at an all-time high and many of the issues that were met by other services are now being met by schools.

I am currently writing a book on school leadership which is going to be published in January 2022 and the more I research for it the more I realise we have incredible expertise in education in our country. I was lucky enough to visit China a few years ago and what struck me was how much more we know about ‘teaching’ than our colleagues there.

We have decades of research and experience of high quality education – we are very lucky; especially within the areas of Special Educational Needs. The Chinese teachers look towards how we teach, assess and plan with respect and interest... where we differ is in the size of the investments being made.

In China I visited school after school with incredible resources, swimming pools, running tracks and skills-based facilities.

I really believe that the future of any country will be decided in the investment it makes in to education – life long. What you put in you will get back time and time again.

If you could choose one famous person to play you in a movie about your life, who would it be and why?

Nicolas Cage or Steve Buscemi. Love them both as actors and their energy would make the story of a rural head teacher that little bit more exciting than it really is.

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You can check out the Brookside Academy website here.

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Check out some of our previous Up Close profiles:

Nick Barrett, owner of Nick's Waste and Rubbish

Lena Dee Oliver, dance and fitness class organiser

Tom Moon, owner of Urban Yard

Mark Wheeler, owner of the Geeky Gamer

Rev Ana Lawrence, rector of Street with Walton and Compton Dundon

Would you like to be the subject of an UP CLOSE profile or do you know someone who we should feature? Contact [email protected]


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