Janet McMurdo, headteacher of Oundle CE Primary School, will retire this Easter after nearly two decades at the school. Mrs McMurdo is well known in the community as the driving force behind the happy and successful school environment which has given generations of Oundle’s children the care, confidence and core skills crucial for a positive start to their educational journey.
During her tenure, Mrs McMurdo has boosted Oundle CE Primary from a school rated “Good” by Ofsted to an “Outstanding” one, seen the school through its transition from Reception to Year 4 provision to a full primary, Reception to Year 8 in 2015, managed the move to new premises in 2016, and guided the school through the Coronavirus pandemic.
Her biggest challenge, she says, was the transition to a full primary: “We had to learn to be a completely different school.” Having taught in a three-tiered system with lower school, middle school and secondary, and having had her own children go through it, she felt the structure worked well, but she saw the advantages of a two-tiered system fitting in better with the National Curriculum for England and Wales. The disadvantage of the larger school, however, is that “it’s harder to make sure the school has a unified vision,” she explains.
Harder, perhaps, but not impossible. Mrs McMurdo sees her greatest achievement as the successful transition and move to new premises in Cotterstock Road from the previous Milton Road site. “Every step of the way, every new thing that came was a challenge, but also a success when we worked together,” she recalls. “Through all that, I have never felt alone. I have always worked with a great staff team, parents and fab kids.”
Claire Morrison, assistant headteacher, has worked alongside Mrs McMurdo for 11 years. She said that her greatest achievements were the pupils who she helped nurture in their early years. “Janet has been devoted to the children in her care and has worked tirelessly to give them the best start in life they could possibly have.”
Originally from the North West, McMurdo followed a family tradition and trained as a teacher. “I saw myself being more of a teacher who could build longer term relationships with the children.” Following her training in Manchester, she taught secondary school in Milton Keynes, Bradford and Rochdale, with a stint as a middle-school DT teacher in Bradford. She worked as a class teacher and deputy head on the Isle of Wight from 1989 until she moved to Peterborough in 1999. From there it was just a short hop to Oundle in 2002 when she took up her post as head of the lower school at Oundle CE Primary.
McMurdo quickly made her mark. She was highly praised in the school’s 2004 Ofsted report: “The headteacher provides very good and clear leadership for the school in which she is fully supported by all her staff… [she] has a very clear vision for the school, which is shared by all who work there.”
In September 2007, the school was rated ‘Good’, and by February 2011 had attained ‘Outstanding’ status, with the report stating that “the headteacher is pivotal to the school’s success.”
She credits the school’s success to its focus on the children’s needs, and the team’s commitment to continued improvement to meet high expectations.
She has also made a positive impact on parents and staff alike. Gordon Montgomery, a parent and governor said: “In my professional life I work regularly with head teachers and school leaders and Mrs McMurdo is among the finest that I have known in any context. Her dedication to the Oundle community has been exemplary, there are thousands upon whom her work has made a positive impact. There are few who have made such a contribution.”
The latest challenge, of course, is running a school during a pandemic. Oundle CE Primary has formed bubbles, rearranged desks in rows, staggered drop-offs, and banned outside visitors, but endeavours to make learning as “normal” as possible. It is no easy task for the younger years, whose learning benefits from trips and outside specialists.
The school, which remained open to serve the children of key workers from the very beginning of the pandemic, is working to provide lasting memories even in these difficult times by recording school plays (The Lion King and the Nativity) and recording orchestra and choir activities in conjunction with St Peter’s Church.
When home learning is necessary, McMurdo offers simple advice to parents: “Do your best. Some days will go well and other days will go less well. But don’t worry and get stressed about the days when it doesn’t go quite so well. Keeping your mental health intact, for both the adults and the children, is key.”
McMurdo will retire with fond memories of her time at the school. “What gets me out of bed in the morning is coming and seeing the children and the team. The best thing about being the head of Oundle Primary School is that you laugh every day. There is always something that makes you think ‘oh my, that’s bonkers!’ ”
Has she made many plans for keeping busy in her retirement? She laughs: “I’ve worked for 47 years, mostly full time, so I’m ready for a bit of flexibility in my schedule!”
1 December 2020