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Personally speaking - 'Last year, four of my pupils died'

Who has been your biggest influence?

Heather Fernie, my role model and mentor headteacher, gave me hard messages when I needed them and all the support I needed to make the leap into headship.

What has been your career high so far?

Becoming one of only 28 special school heads in the country to gain the title National Leaders of Education - in the same week I won the Local Government Association's national council worker of the year award for leadership.

What was your worst moment in teaching?

I was being observed teaching a PE lesson. To explain the effects of exercise, I picked up two pink cardboard lungs and held them against me the wrong way up. When I asked what they were, one pupil shouted: "Tits, Miss!"

Which pupil are you most proud of?

Dominic. Last year, four teenage pupils died. They had complex health needs and their deaths were completely unrelated. But they were all Dominic's friends. He asked if it was going to be his turn next, and went on to plan his funeral with his mother. He died later in the year.

What is the first thing you do on a Friday evening?

If the weather is fine, I get into our hot tub in the garden with a glass of something refreshing. My husband joins me and we have our first meaningful conversation probably since the previous weekend.

What was your worst field trip experience?

On a sailing residential in the Solent, I was responsible for 14 teenage pupils. I was so tired I could hardly keep my eyes open. When another adult said I should go below and have a rest, the headline "Child drowns while teacher sleeps" flashed before my eyes. I soon roused myself.

What is the best advice you have been given?

"Why don't you try working with pupils who have special educational needs - you seem quite good at it."

Where did you last go on holiday, and why?

Last year, my husband and I sailed round St Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean, visiting the Sunshine School, our twin special school.

What was the last book you read?

The GLS Educational Supplies catalogue. It has been a while since I had time to read a novel.

Sue Bourne is head of the Avenue School in Reading. She is one of only 28 heads of special schools in the country to have gained National Leaders of Education status.

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