The Cathedral School of St Peter & St John RC Primary School in Salford is losing one of its most precious assets – headteacher Margaret O’Brien is retiring after 43 years.
A Roman Catholic Primary School supported by the Diocese of Salford, it sits on Mount Street, off Blackfriars Road, in a traditionally deprived part of the city.
It’s seen a sea change in the children coming to the school over the past 10 years.
But Margaret, the outgoing head of this Ofsted-rated ‘Outstanding’ school, is nothing but positive.
She is departing to spend more time with her electrician husband Vin and two grown-up sons Daniel and Eamonn.
“My family have always been very supporting of my teaching career, they’ve never minded the hours or the weekends when I’d nip in to work,” she said.
“I’m a glass half-full kind of person, and not someone who doesn’t embrace change.
“I’ve never had a day when I didn’t want to come to work – that’s perhaps because I’ve been supported by such a a wonderful team.”
Her retirement is a time to look back on what she’s achieved and how she has made this little corner of Salford better.
“I’ve always had great relationships with the parents here.
“Many are living in challenging circumstances but I’ve never had anything but positive vibes from them.
They say Salfordians are the salt of the earth and I would agree.
“I’ll be leaving with such fantastic memories, and that is down to them.
“It has been a privilege to care for their children – we are public servants at the end of the day and to see children do so well and get a good education is just the best reward.”
With four in ten new teachers leaving the profession within a year, her dedication is something to be admired.
That’s clear in the conversation we have today and in the reverant tones in which staff speak of her time at the helm.
Her successor, deputy headteacher Diane Hanley, takes up the post on 4 April 2016.
“Talk about an inspirational, outstanding leader!” exclaimed Diane.
“We’re very sorry she is leaving us, but it’s time for her to move on and do something for herself.
“She has just given so much over the years, working late into the night, almost every evening and weekend.
“I’m sure she’s never had a day off, even when she was ill, apart from when she had her children.”
Margaret arrived in Salford as a newly qualified teacher in 1973, having moved from Northern Ireland to train in Manchester.
“I’d always grown up wanting to be a teacher,” she told SalfordOnline.com. “I suppose you could say it was my vocation.
She spent most of her career in Early Years education, becoming heavily involved with Salford City Council.
“When I arrived, Salford was a very different place.
“We used to be surrounded by huge council housing estates which now have all but been sold off to private developers.
“The ethnic mix of children has changed in the last 10 years, we now have children of travelling showmen, we make them feel very welcomed, as well as white British we have European children, and those for whom English is not their first language.
“It makes for a very rich tapestry of families, and we all explore those origins together, it has really added extra depth and contributed vastly to the whole ethos of the school.”
There must have been thousands of children in her care over the years.
Margaret fell in love early on with how rewarding her career was: “I just enjoy being a hands-on and being given the opportunity to mould young lives. This has been an extremely rewarding job.
So what are the greatest challenges of being a teacher?
“Looking back, I would say the constant government changes to curriculum and the way they want you to teach.
“The demise of the local authority has been a great disservice to schools, we used to be able to tap into so a wealth of expertise and experience.
“Being rated outstanding gives us that feelfood factor but it’s more about the opportunities the children get these days.
“School sport, for example, used to be football and netball, now they get the chance at lacrosse, tag rugby, cricket, dancing at The Lowry, the Manchester School Games. Our trophy cabinet is heaving.”
After a special Mass was held at Salford Cathedral on Wednesday 16 March, this Wednesday 23 March there’ll be a special assembly in her honour at the school, with past pupils, colleagues, parents and guests of honour.
“It’s going to be very emotional,” Margaret admitted.
“It’s been a privilege to serve the people of Salford.
“I feel comfortable handing over the reigns now, it’s a good time to do so for me to spend more time with my husband, travel and catch up with my Irish families.
“Mass was a very joyous occasion so I hope I can embrace Wednesday’s assembly with all the joy it deserves.”
Main image: Father Michael Jones, Eamonn O’Brien, Margaret O’Brien, husband Vin, sister Trish, Daniel O’Brien
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