Retiring head looks back at 20 years in charge of Farlingaye High School
PUBLISHED: 09:15 10 November 2015 | UPDATED: 10:35 11 November 2015
Sarah Lucy brown
“The reaction has been overwhelming”, says Sue Hargadon, reflecting on the outpouring of affection in response to news of her retirement.
It has been almost 20 years since she became headteacher at Farlingaye High School, in Woodbridge – but next summer term will be her last.
Despite leading the school to consecutive record exam success and outstanding Ofsted ratings, Ms Hargadon feels that now is the time to step aside.
“You reach a point where you don’t want people to think you should have left earlier,” she said, recollecting 20 years at what is now one of the most consistently top performing schools in the county.
Ms Hargadon arrived at Farlingaye at the end of 1995, following five years as deputy head at Hartismere School.
Since then, the pupil population has grown from 1,100 to 1,950, including a sixth form of 475.
“I was so excited to become headteacher,” she recalls. “In many ways, coming from a smaller school was great experience – as deputy head, I’d done a bit of everything.
“I have genuinely never wanted to leave here. One of the nicest things is that every day is different – and so is every student.
“I’ve made mistakes, no doubt, but have just had to learn from them. I definitely look back at some things and wish I had done them differently, but there has never been a time when I’ve been unhappy.
“I’m perhaps proudest of the value added to students’ progress, regardless of ability. I would be equally delighted with child making it to a level two college course from a starting point that wasn’t high, than with one getting into Oxford or Cambridge.”
Reaction to Ms Hargadon’s retirement has been universally warmhearted. Last week’s second annual Student Takeover Day saw pupils and staff switch places to experience school life in each other’s shoes.
Sixth former, Georgie Wright, one of two students to step into the role of headteacher for the day, said: “I feel lucky to have got through the school with Ms Hargadon in charge. I’m always impressed by her ability to remember you as a person. She is involved in everything – every concert, every craft fair. It makes such a massive difference.”
Ms Hargadon described the reaction to news of her leaving “as overwhelming – and deeply moving”. She said: “The feedback from parents, staff and ex-students is lovely.”
When she retires next summer, Ms Hargadon will be leaving a school rated outstanding in its last two Ofsted reports, with inspectors praising her “excellent leadership” following their last visit in 2013.
Since 2011, Farlingaye has been a Teaching School, in partnership with Kesgrave High.
It became a specialist school for maths and computing in 2002, and for creative arts and English in 2006.
In 2003, it joined the Leading Edge network of high-performing secondary schools, and was given National Support School status in 2009.
GCSE pupils this year combined to achieve the school’s best ever set of results – 72% getting five A*-C grades with English and maths. Meanwhile, 210 students sat A-level exams, posting an A*-E rate of 98.5% and an A*-C rate of 82%.
But Ms Hargadon is equally as proud of the school’s extracurricular achievements. A keen runner, she took special pride in taking 116 students to this year’s County Cross Country Championships, where the school 17 top 10 places and won four of eight team events.
Other events she will fondly remember include the annual sponsored fancy dress walk, covering an eight-mile route round town and along the river, stopping for lunch on Kingston Playing Fields.
“I’ll miss the general buzz of being with the students,” said the 60-year-old, who is the wife of a teacher and mother of two grown-up sons.
Ms Hargadon, who lives in Crowfield, near Stonham Aspal, has no clear plans for retirement but is decisive about her choice to retire.
“As a headteacher, I think you have to just leave it behind,” she said. “You’re the one person who can’t go back and do supply work. I don’t wan to interfere with what the new head will be doing.
“Whoever gets the job will be the luckiest person – to have such great students, facilities, staff, parents and governors.”