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Emma Speller

Emma Speller

Emma Speller graduated from ARU’s BEd (Hons) Primary Education in 1998. She has worked in education since graduating, currently as Head Teacher at Heybridge Primary School in the Kemnal Academy Trust (TKAT).

What did you study at ARU, and what have you been doing since graduating?

I studied at ARU when it was still at the Sawyer School Lane site in Brentwood, in 1994 to 1998. I did the four year BEd Honours Primary Degree, majoring in English and minoring in music. I always knew I wanted to be some kind of English teacher. I'm passionate about books and in my spare time enjoy writing children’s stories.

I loved English. It was always going to be English, but then I really loved singing and wanted to learn to play piano, so I took the opportunity to have piano lessons and singing lessons as part of my music minor. I ended up leading English for about 15 years across schools in Essex. Currently in my second headship to TKAT, I have taught in many schools in Essex, working my way up to Headship through Key Stage 1 Leader, English Lead, Assistant Head Teacher, and Deputy Head Teacher. I was introduced to TKAT about four years ago, and brought in to add capacity across the leadership teams of their four schools in Essex, working on curriculum and teaching and learning.

TKAT is a really good trust to work for, with 45 schools who all work collaboratively.

What did you study before you came to ARU?

I went to Chelmsford College, and in those days you could do A-Levels as well as a teaching add-on if you were interested in it - an extra couple of lessons a week on what it would be like to be a teacher. I looked forward to these sessions and because I didn't know whether I wanted to be a nurse or a teacher they helped me realise my ambition to be a teacher.

Did you always know that you would go to university and if not, what changed your mind?

My Mum and Dad never went to university, so no – I never knew that I would go. I was encouraged by my Mum and Dad to go, and I’m glad I did. I wanted to become a teacher. I knew that I was passionate about English. I knew I wanted to teach children and share my love of reading. I wanted to be a part of children’s learning and inspire young children to write and be authors themselves - that always gave me such joy. So it was only a natural progression really. That's what I wanted to do in my career and to do that, I needed to get a degree.

What inspired you to do what you do now?

My gorgeous Miss Fothergill, my teacher when I was in infant school. She was so beautiful. She had this blonde ponytail and I just adored her. I thought she was like a Princess. She used to play the piano in assembly. I just thought she was sent from heaven, and I always admired her. She was a role model to me when I was younger.

That's where my writing is now developing. I'm very much into children's fantasy lands and escapism because I know what joy they can give a child. I see children with such stressful lives, from the age of 5 to 11. I see so many children who, especially post-COVID, have got stressed parents, or families who have broken down. Many of my pupils are neurodivergent and struggling in a mainstream school. That’s why I have a sofa in my room - if a child is in crisis at any point, the thing that works best for them is sitting down and reading a story with them, so I have loads of books there too.

What was the most valuable thing you took away from your education?

The power of literature.

It’s about attitude more than anything. For me, in my school, we do everything around learning behaviours. When the children came back after COVID they were used to sitting with their parents in remote learning, they lacked independence and drive to learn. We gave the children lots of strategies to build on their learning behaviours, and now it’s embedded in the culture of my school. If you were to to come to my school, you’d see superhero learning capes being worn by the children. If their teacher sees that they have shown independence, they will have a beautiful cape with a big “I” on the back in felt, “C” for concentration and “D “for drive. They wear this beautiful silky red or green cape all day because they've shown that behaviour! It's fun, but most importantly, the children's attitude to learning has really improved.

Which aspects of the course most helped your career development, and why?

We did two or three work experiences a year on the course, in blocks of two or three weeks, and I would be working with the teachers. That’s where you learn the job – from experienced teachers doing it themselves, and being in the classroom with the children. You could apply all that pedagogy you learned in the lectures, and I think the marriage of the two gives you what you need to be a teacher.

I did a work placement at the school right next door to ARU in Sawyers Hall Lane, Saint Thomas Canterbury's Infant School, and that's where my first job was. They hired me as a newly qualified teacher. I was hugely inspired by my first Head Teacher there. She was brilliant. She was in and out of the classrooms. She inspired me. She supported me. I’ll never forget her. She was a really wonderful woman.

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

Persevere and work hard. It's challenging being a teenager or in your early twenties and jumping 10 years forward, thinking about what your career is going to be like. It’s really tough. So just work hard, study, and you will have a career that you love. It will be worth it.

What projects are you currently working on?

Part of my new role at Heybridge is to implement the learning behaviour culture that I've implemented in my first school. For me it's about making sure that those learning behaviours for the children are secure and embedded because you could have the most amazing curriculum but if the children's learning behaviours aren't there, it’s worthless.

Where Now?

BEd (Hons) Primary Education with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS)

Our BEd (Hons) Primary Education with QTS will make sure you become a 10/10 teacher. As one of the best Education training providers in the UK, ARU trains the highest quality teachers in the country.

The Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT)

The Kemnal Academies Trust is one of the largest Multi-Academy Trusts in the South & East of England with 45 Primary and Secondary Academies in the TKAT Family.

Meet Mitzi

Mitzi Harris graduated with a First from our BA (Hons) Early Childhood Studies in 2023 and has just started working as Admissions and Conversion Co-ordinator at ARU. She is also a freelance writer and self-published children’s author.