Thetford school aims to build on former headteacher’s legacy

Dr Andy Sheppard has retired after more than 16 years as headteacher at Redcastle Family School in Thetford
Picture Mark Westley
Dr Andy Sheppard has retired after more than 16 years as headteacher at Redcastle Family School in Thetford Picture Mark Westley

A Thetford school is aiming to build on the legacy of its recently retired headteacher, who helped drive major improvements during his nearly 17 years at the helm.

Dr Andy Sheppard stepped down from Redcastle Family School due to health reasons and says his proudest achievement was helping to turn around the school’s flagging fortunes when he took the reins more than 16 years ago.

His innovation also once saw him offer all pupils at the school, in St Martin’s Way, a bar of chocolate if they could make it through a half term without exclusions.

Liz Russell, who was his deputy and is now acting headteacher, said: “He made a huge impact on the school.

“We’re going to continue with all the good things that have been set and the direction we move in will take account of all of the new legislation that’s out there and current trends to improve the life chances of children in our school.”

Dr Sheppard, 64, said when he first started at the school, formerly known as Redcastle Furze, it was in a ‘bit of a bad way’ and faced an imminent Ofsted inspection.

“Ofsted was saying ‘you ought to think about closing it and a fresh start’,” Dr Sheppard remembers. “Fortunatley the local authority was very helpful and we managed to get Ofsted to give us 18 months.”

They turned the situation around and when the education watchdog returned, they rated the school ‘good’.

Dr Sheppard said they were able to build from there and the school was recently praised as ‘good’ in its last Ofsted inspection in July, which was overseen by Mrs Russell.

When his offer of bars of chocolate to reduce exclusions proved successful, he continued with incentives for pupils including a free disco and Easter eggs.

He said: “It’s now very very rare if we have to exclude anybody. It established a whole different ethos.”

On what he will miss most about the school, Dr Sheppard said: “The children – they came to my office to show me their work. I would walk around the school, see them in their class and they were just so enthusiastic.

“They enjoyed what was going on. School was never difficult for most of them, it was something they wanted to be a part of and that was very infectious.”

He praised the staff at the school and highlighted the work of Mrs Russell, recently retired chair of governors Pat Pearson and school support officer Frances Newton.

He added that the school was in ‘good hands’ and he had ‘a great deal of confidence’ in Alistair Skipper, the new chair of governors.

Dr Sheppard. who was a magistrate for about 12 years mainly in Thetford and is a published author, has enjoyed a 42-year teaching career and has worked in state and private schools in Britain and overseas. The father of one said he would like to find another job for a year and was then aiming to travel.

His wife Debbie is head of English and a specialist English teacher at Redcastle.