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NQT leaves duster behind

Mother of five who started as an assistant to the school cleaner is now a graduate in a class of her own. Helen Ward reports

It may seem unusual to throw a This is Your Life party for someone starting a new job.

But when Angela Gunn became a reception teacher this term at St Eanswythe's primary, in Folkestone, staff wanted to mark her first 15 years as a cleaner, site manager, teaching assistant and sports coach.

Mrs Gunn, 38, has filled every one of those roles at the 205-pupil school while raising a family of five children and studying part-time for a degree.

"It is quite a shock," she said. "I hated school when I was a pupil. It just wasn't that important to me. But when you work in a school and help children, you can see when a child grasps an idea and it is great. That is why I decided I wanted to help out more, and it has just grown. I love it."

Mrs Gunn left school at 16 with six GCSEs. She got married at 18 to Barry, who had three children from a previous marriage - Jimmy, Fonteyn and Barrie-John.

The couple, who have been together for 20 years, soon had two children of their own, Deborah and David, and now have five grandchildren, including five-year-old Finley, Jimmy's son, who is in Year 1 at the school.

Mrs Gunn said: "When Deborah started school and David was at nursery, I started helping the cleaner at St Eanswythe's with odd jobs. I went on to become cleaner-in-charge, then site manager and teaching assistant.

"I would work from 7am to 8.30am as site manager, then 8.30am to 3pm as a teaching assistant, then from 3pm to 7pm as site manager."

When Jane Garrett, head of St Eanswythe's, started in 2000, Mrs Gunn was cleaner-in-charge.

"The two of us worked tirelessly through the summer holidays to fill skips with rubbish from school," she said. "We then had a major crisis getting teachers."

An Ofsted inspection in March 2001 found "significant disruption and dislocation". The school had just moved back into its refurbished building after two years in temporary accommodation and half the classes were being taught by temporary teachers.

Mrs Gunn had taken courses to enhance her role as a teaching assistant and as the recruitment crisis peaked, she found herself in front of a class.

Mrs Garrett said: "We had staff appointed to start in September 2001, but that summer term we needed to breach the gap.

"I got supply teachers in, but at the end of the day Angela was better than them, so we took a class between us.

"I planned and assessed the work and she kept it going."

It was a turning point for Mrs Gunn, who then started studying part-time for a BA in youth and child studies at Canterbury Christ Church university.

She gained her degree in 2005 and joined the graduate teacher programme, which she finished last term. Mrs Garrett said: "Angela is a workaholic. She is in on everything. She has a very good rapport with children and is very caring.

"Once, when she took some children to a cricket tournament, it started to rain and it was getting late, so she bought them fish and chips out of her own money. She just goes out of her way for them."


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