Tough times end on a high as headteacher leaves school stronger

Syephan Prandle with yet another award for the schoool in the last week of his headship
Syephan Prandle with yet another award for the schoool in the last week of his headship

AFTER coming through some personal tough times, Ponteland High School’s Headteacher is delighted to be leaving on a high.

Stephen Prandle is retiring from the role this summer and is looking forward to spending more time with his family and enjoying his hobbies.

But he will also miss the staff and students at the school, which has strengthened its position as one of the top exam performers in the North East during his eight years in charge.

The daily challenges he faced were put into perspective when the 59-year-old was diagnosed with a form of cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, in 2010. Thankfully, he was able to make a recovery and he returned to work in 2011.

“It was a difficult period and there were some bad days, but I was always convinced that I would get better,” he said.

“I had a lot of fantastic support from my family, friends and colleagues and they helped me to cope with my situation.

“I gradually improved and finished chemotherapy and later in the year I completed my radiotherapy sessions. I still go for check-ups, but I feel fine at the moment.”

The cancer diagnosis came a year after the school community mourned the death of a pupil Victoria Wilkinson and her father in tragic circumstances.

However, Mr Prandle has many happy memories of student achievements, sporting success and interesting trips to take with him.

These include being among the party of staff and pupils visiting schools and cities in China, and developing a sister school relationship with Chengde Number 2 in the Hebei province.

Pont High was the first state school to become a specialist language college and its foreign links have become even stronger since he became Headteacher in 2004. Last year, it was one of only 34 schools nationally to receive the Confucius Classroom award to mark its status as a centre of excellence in teaching Mandarin and developing students’ understanding of Chinese culture.

And the icing on the cake for its excellent exam figures came a few weeks ago when it was included in the top ten per cent of non-selective schools for its GCSE results last summer by SSAT (The Schools Network).

Mr Prandle said: “It was a successful school when I joined and in my time here I’ve tried to build on the progress made by teachers in the past.

“I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to appoint some very talented teachers and school leaders, who have made a major contribution to our achievements.

“I’m delighted with the exam progress and credit must go to the outstanding students for their efforts. Fingers crossed, this year’s results will be even more spectacular.

“I believe this is the right time for me to step down from being a headteacher and hopefully the school will go from strength to strength in the future.”

The father-of-two, who is married to retired English teacher Katherine, started his career at a middle school on Merseyside in 1975 and he moved to the North East to take up a post at a school in Nunthorpe, Middlesbrough, where he became Deputy Headteacher.

He also spent 11 years as head of a school in Seaton Burn, before going to Ponteland.

Mr Prandle has spent the last two years working as the North East associate for the National College for School Leadership, which involves going into schools and working with headteachers of the future.

He plans to continue the part-time role for a few years.

As for the future of the school he is leaving, he said: “I don’t think the Government reforms are over, particularly with the growth of academies and teaching schools.

“It’s now up to the future leadership of Ponteland High to take things forward in an appropriate way and I wish them well.”

In addition to spending time with family, Mr Prandle will have more days to go swimming and watch cricket and he has recently taken up Zumba.

His replacement Kieran McGrane will start in September.