The head of Ipswich High School has spoken of her pride at leading it through a period of unprecedented change.

Oona Carlin has been Head of Ipswich High School since September 2013

Oona Carlin has finished her final term in charge at the Woolverstone school having been at the helm since September 2013.

During that time, she has led the school through national reform to GCSE and A Levels, the change of ownership and accepting boys for the first time in its 140-year history, introducing the Diamond Model of education and opening a boarding house, The Dairy.

Ms Carlin, who is taking up a post as Principal of King’s College Doha in Qatar in January, said: “I came from a school in London to a place that some may describe as ‘sleepy Suffolk’ but it is so far from that.

“At my previous school we were trapped in the city with one plot of grass. So, to come here and have so many amazing facilities on the school’s site is such a big difference.

“Even now when I come up the drive, I can’t stop myself from taking in a big breath and admiring where I’ve been privileged to work for the past six-and-a-half years.”

Educational reform

Nationally and academically, Ms Carlin has steered the school through the reforms to GCSE and A Levels which sees students graded solely on examinations at the end of the course.

Oona Carlin, centre, celebrates GCSE results with students in August 2019

“We’ve gone through that smoothly and adjusted our curriculum accordingly and ensured our pupils are prepared for the challenges,” she explained.

“Obviously that has been a success because our results have been amazing year on year – we have the highest number of grade 9s at GCSE and the highest A*-C rate for A Levels.”

Ms Carlin saw that opportunity as the ideal time to introduce an enrichment programme with a comprehensive offer of clubs.

The school offers more than 250 clubs and activities to pupils which gives them the opportunity to experience variety in their school life.

Change in ownership

However, 2017 was to be the biggest year of change in Ms Carlin’s tenure.

The Girls’ Day School Trust transferred ownership of the school to Ipswich Education Ltd, led by London & Oxford Group.

This subsequently led to the introduction of a co-educational offer – with boys joining the Prep School and Sixth Form from September 2018 – and offering the Diamond Model of education.

Ms Carlin said: “Parents have to make an effort to get their children here because we are in a rural location. Generally speaking, outside of London, parents want the convenience of having a school that all of their children could attend.

“Of course, we were sympathetic to our existing parents and the education they had bought into.

“The Diamond Model is the perfect combination of co-education, but it also allows us to teach the students in separate classes where we think it’s advantageous for both.

“The staff have totally embraced all of the changes and can see it’s a modern approach to the offer that we had.”

School children sat on a brick wall

Boys joined the school in September 2018

Whole school support

Ms Carlin said the acceptance and support she has received from parents, pupils and staff has been overwhelming.

“For me, the parents were absolutely amazing through the change of ownership and change of direction,” she said. “It was hard and there were a lot of people who were negative, and understandably parents who had bought into a particular product.

“It was wonderful to see that they had faith in me and brought everyone together in support of the school.

“The staff have been a real rock and pillar of strength. It’s a really positive reflection of the school in how many long-standing members of staff are here.

“Our staff turnover is incredibly low – around 7% which is remarkable as they are all keen to stay at the school and follow the direction we are on.”

She added: “I have an amazing relationship with the pupils and know them really well.

“I’m seen as different to a figurehead type of head some schools have historically had. I will really miss that relationship with them.”

New challenge

Nicola Griffiths will be Acting Head

At her new school in the Middle East, Ms Carlin will be leading it through its next phase of development in opening new campuses.

“Moving to Doha is a brilliant new challenge and something completely different,” she said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to move to another school like Ipswich High School, because quite honestly, there is no other school like this special one.

“It’s the right time for both me and the school to be moving on. Six and a half years is quite a reasonable amount of time and the timing is exciting for a new head coming in.”

Mark Howe will be joining Ipswich High School as Head in August 2020

Nicola Griffiths, the current Deputy Head at Ipswich High School, will be Acting Head for the spring and summer terms in 2020 before the new Head, Mark Howe, joins in August 2020.

Asked for her advice for Mrs Griffiths and Mr Howe, Ms Carlin said: “Listen more than you talk.

“It’s really important to make sure that you are fully aware of the background and the journey that people have been on.

“Everyone here has the best interests of the school and students at heart.”