Retired Cambourne Village College headteacher leaves ‘important and impressive’ legacy behind

Claire Coates left Cambourne Village College this summer after 10 years in charge – during which time the school has grown beyond all expectations.

Claire was appointed headteacher designate before the buildings were finished and was on the doorstep to greet the first cohort of 132 pupils in September 2013.

Claire Coates has retired as principal of Cambourne Village College
Claire Coates has retired as principal of Cambourne Village College

Ten years on, the pupil population has increased 10-fold, they are in the middle of a third wave of building works to enable 1,650 students to study at the college, and plans are in place to open a sixth form for a further 350 16-18-year-olds in September 2024.

And that, Claire believes, means it is the right time for her to leave not only Cambourne but The Cam Academy Trust, where she has worked since 2002, initially joining Comberton Village College as head of English.

“It’s been 10 exciting years,” she said, “but we are entering a new phase now and this is probably a good time for a new principal to take things forward.

“It has been fantastic seeing the successes of the kids, building such a high-quality team of staff, and seeing the development of a brilliant community culture.

“That community has been instrumental in some of the developments at the school that we were not anticipating, like the 3G AstroTurf and the performance hall, which are both a direct result of local involvement and engagement.

“The college has had fantastic support from so many people. We have been really lucky in the quality of our governors, in the support from the trust, the town council and Cambridgeshire County Council, who have had the confidence to continue expanding the school.

“Above all, we have built an amazing team of staff. When we first opened, we only had five teachers permanently on site, the others commuting from Comberton. I’ll be passing on a fantastic team of 140 teachers and support staff, and I’m going to miss them very much.”

While the lows cannot be ignored – the Covid pandemic being an incredibly difficult time for all – Claire will look back on her time at Cambourne as a hugely positive experience.

“It’s been intensive being principal but also extremely rewarding,” she said. “The role has been all-consuming but I’m hugely grateful to have had the opportunity. It’s been a unique privilege to have opened a school and to have had a fundamental impact on its development – the set-up, the staffing, and the structure. I’d like to thank Stephen (Munday, trust CEO) and Gordon Johnson (former trust chair), for having had the confidence to appoint me.

“The early Ofsted ‘outstanding’ rating was key to our future success, as has been our role as a teaching school, bringing so many talented trainee teachers to our doors.

“There are many highlights, but one of them is always GCSE exam results day and seeing so many delighted young people in the best place to go on to the next stage of their lives.

“The school has been consistently high achieving, and I’m proud of the progress our students make during their time here, which has been significantly above the national average.

“I’m also really proud of the breadth of opportunities we offer – the number of extra-curricular activities is extraordinary. As for most years, we’ve had around 70 events, workshops, trips, etc, and that doesn’t even include curriculum extension days or activities week.

“It’s due entirely to the enthusiasm and commitment of our brilliant staff, and is as important to the success of the school as the high-quality academic achievement.

“One of those special events is the international talent evening, which highlights not only the talents of our pupils but also the diversity – there are more than 40 languages spoken at the college.

“I’m also thrilled by the development of arts at Cambourne. At a time when lots of schools are cutting back on that, seeing our concerts and musical theatre productions go from strength to strength is fantastic.

“It took five years of work by the charitable trust to equip and open the performance hall, but to see the first performance of Chicago there earlier this year, and to see people’s reactions as they walked into the new theatre, made it worthwhile. It’s the sort of facility you usually only get in private schools.”

Another highlight for Claire is the annual week of sports days, where inclusivity is proudly on display, as well as the impressive student leadership programme, which involves not only developing sports leaders, but also languages as students head to local primary schools to teach younger pupils.

She also looks back fondly on Cambourne being named Pearson School of the Year in 2018.

“It was a really special time and reflected the wholehearted, early embracing of the school by the community,” she remembered.

Now her feelings about impending retirement are bittersweet.

“I’m excited about the possibilities of having time to do some of the things that the intensity of being a head means I haven’t been able to do,” she said.

“I want to have time to appreciate friends and family as well as the little things in life, especially books and gardens – and I hope to get fit and back to mountain walking again.

“But, of course, it’s hard to leave. Our sixth form was originally due to open in 2023 and I would have loved to have seen this. I’m confident, though, the school is in a really good place to hand on. There are always things that can be improved, but Cambourne has tremendous strength in the quality of the staff and the support from the governors, trustees, and the community. I know it will continue to thrive.”

Even without the sixth form, Claire’s legacy to Cambourne – to the town and the college – is a pretty impressive and important one.

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