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Bouquet of the week;TES Competition

School secretaries are the lifeblood of primary schools, stalwart in the daily round of registers, phone calls, letters, admin, appointments, and life's varied ups and downs. Maureen Rouncefield does it with wit, warmth, intelligence and calm, according to Sara Massey, chair of the parent-teacher association at Summerhill Infants in Bristol.

It's her ability to stay cool and reassuring in any situation, from a child having an epileptic fit to a parent coming in all hot and bothered, for which Sara Massey admires her. "There are some calm people who tend to be dull. But Mrs Rouncefield's got a sparkle to her."

A lot of people will miss that sparkle when Maureen retires at the end of this term after more than 22 years. Says headteacher Alison Laing, who has only been at Summerhill for two years: "I've never worked with anyone like her before. She has immense warmth and a great sense of humour which comes out in her day-to-day dealings with everyone, from the toddlers to the person who delivers the milk."

But it's not just all charm and sparkle. She is, says Sara Massey, who nominated Maureen for The TES Bouquet of the Week, "incredibly efficient. Everything runs like clockwork." Maureen does all the letters and paperwork for the PTA - remarkably, she is also clerk to the governors.

Two years ago, Maureen was asked by the governors not to retire, as she'd planned, when the previous headteacher left. Despite having worked for the past 20 years with one head, and being already past retirement age herself, the change didn't faze her. "No two heads are the same and I thought it might be difficult. But she gave me lots of space in the beginning, so we both had time to settle in to the change. I was pleased at how well it worked out."

She may be self-effacing, but she'll enjoy the celebration of a special assembly at which children and staff will have a chance to say goodbye. Says Sara Massey: "She'll be a hard act to follow."

Maureen Rouncefield is retiring at the peak of her abilities, but past the legal retirement age. Many teachers have taken early retirement recently - but are they, asks Karen Lacy-Roberts on this week's Career Development page, giving up too early? Mid-life crisis or opportunity: the choice, she says, is up to you...

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