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A piece of my heart will be left behind at Briary

MUMS usually know best, and that was certainly the case when 16-year-old Ben Cooper was pondering his future career. After he dismissed becoming a professional musician and realising he wouldn’t make the grade as a professional cricketer, his mum suggested teaching. Fast forward 25 years and the father of four, who lives in Whitstable, is now 41 and poised to take the top job at Swalecliffe school. He announced last week he would be moving on at Easter after 11 years at Briary school in Herne Bay. Liz Crudgington was sent to the head teacher’s office to find out more…

TOP OF THE CLASS: Briary head teacher Ben Cooper will leave the school at Easter, after securing a good Ofsted report
TOP OF THE CLASS: Briary head teacher Ben Cooper will leave the school at Easter, after securing a good Ofsted report

What was your first job?
I worked as a relief Christmas postman and only found out that the bike I had been given on my first day, had no working brakes, approaching a roundabout with a bag full of mail on the front. I checked in future!

When and why did you decide to go into teaching?
When I was 16. I realised that I wasn’t good enough to be a professional cricketer and didn’t want to be a professional musician. My mum sold it to me as a job where I could still enjoy sport and music by teaching them at school with the children, and then playing myself at the weekends. I went and did work experience at the local primary school and decided that this was the job for me. I also had a fantastic head teacher — Mr Smith — when I was at primary school. I thought he was brilliant and he is why I wanted to be a head teacher.

What do you enjoy about it?
Seeing the children grow and develop their skills. It is amazing what they can achieve. The friendly atmosphere around Briary is unique and very special too. Being able to make a positive difference to as many children’s lives as possible.

What do you find the most challenging about it?
When I am bound by politicians’ instructions to do things which I think are not in the best interests of the children.

FUNDRAISING FUN: Mr Cooper gets a soaking at the wet sponge stall at one of Briary’s summer fairs
FUNDRAISING FUN: Mr Cooper gets a soaking at the wet sponge stall at one of Briary’s summer fairs

You have recently gone back into the classroom as a teacher — how are you finding that?
It is really good to do some teaching as I have always enjoyed it. it is ironic that when you get good at teaching you often find yourself in a position where you don’t teach anymore. I have made arrangements for my brilliant deputy, Sarah Watson, to be out of class on the days when I am teaching.

Tell me about your family.
I have a wife, two boys and two girls, two guinea pigs, a cat and a goldfish at home. When I got my first job at Briary I didn’t yet have children, and now my oldest is at secondary school, while my youngest has just started at nursery.

How hard was it to choose a school for your own children?
We followed the advice which I give to all parents who ask me, which is to go round our local schools when the children are there, and see which felt right for our children. We are really lucky that there are so many good schools in the Whitstable and Herne Bay area! We chose ours mainly because it felt right and because it was the closest to home. I think we have calculated that for picking up and dropping off our children over the years, my wife will have to walk to and from for 16 years!

And how do you find going to parents’ evenings — do you think your children’s teachers treat you differently?
It varies. Sometimes, teachers explain things to me that I already understand if they don’t know me, but honestly, I just want them to treat me as they would any other parent and they always do. I am always simply keen to know that my children are happy, trying their best, behaving well and have friends. If they are then I have confidence that they will make good progress.

Why did you decide to go for the job at Swalecliffe?
I have been at Briary for 11 and a half years. The school has grown from 320 to 410 children, we have a fantastic pro-school building, a recently saved children’s centre and have just had a really good Ofsted report. It seemed the right time to seek a new challenge at a bigger school as I want to make a positive difference to as many children’s lives as possible. Swalecliffe is a school I have always had my eye on If the chance came along, so everything fell into place.

What are you looking forward to, and what will you miss?
A chance to apply what I have learnt to my new job, and to get to know the Swalecliffe children, parents, staff and governors. I will miss everyone at Briary and feel I am leaving a piece of my heart behind.

If there was one thing you would change about education or teaching, what would it be?
The unrealistic pressure put on children and teachers under the current Secretary of State for Education.

What do you do outside school?
Play cricket for Canterbury indoors and outdoors. Try and do bits of DIY, mainly unsuccessfully, and spend time with my family.

What do you like about Herne Bay?
The primary schools joint carol concert at the Kings Hall and the Greenhill community.

Anything you would change?
Better facilities for Greenhill.

What was your first car?
A Ford Fiesta, second hand from my parents that ran for 10 years.

What was your first record?
More Than Words by Extreme.

Dream dinner party guests?
If I am not inviting family or friends, who would be first, then comedian Stephen Fry, cricketer Andrew Flintoff,and comedian Victoria Wood.

Herne Bay Times, February 6th 2014

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