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The unsung school heroes in the UK and abroad

By Talk Education
06 July 2022

We’re often asked by schools how we can help celebrate their unsung heroes – and with the upcoming Talk Education Awards for Innovation in Education firmly on our minds (don’t forget – entries close on 15th July), we thought it was high time to celebrate the brilliant work of the legends who keep the cogs whirring in their busy school communities. From devoted dinner ladies and hard-working bus drivers to boarding-house superstars, these are the staff – nominated by their peers, colleagues and pupils – who work behind the scenes and go above and beyond to help make their school such a special place. And keep your eyes peeled for a second instalment in a few weeks’ time…

Malvern College
Kim Tutcher, House Assistant

‘Grandma Wonderful’, or Kim Tutcher, has been looking after boarders at Malvern College for longer than she cares to remember. This year, she celebrates four decades at the school, with 16 years dedicated exclusively to caring for boarders in the College’s oldest boarding house, School House. During that time, she has been an integral part of the fabric of boarding life – there both for boys who want to share their news or approach her with their concerns or emotional wobbles, and for parents too (she’s known to have a keen eye for the father hiding behind sunglasses as he deals with his offspring flying the nest). Kim retires this summer – and such is her legacy that there’s a new prize up for grabs at the annual House Cup Supper: The Kim Cup, awarded to a boy who has flourished in School House.

Malvern College sent us a rather wonderful anecdote: ‘Fed up with unnamed and unclaimed boxer shorts piling up in the laundry room, Kim (a former textiles teacher) turned sections of the undergarments into cushions which were universally loved and hugged by the boys – unbeknown to them what they were snuggling up to. Kim Tutcher: security blanket to hundreds of boys, and responsible for their security cushions too.’

Wells Cathedral Junior School
Therapy dogs Rio and Muddy Puddles

For the past few years, pupils at Wells Cathedral Junior School have enjoyed regular visits from two registered Pets as Therapy dogs: Rio, a rescued Huntaway-Collie cross, and Muddy Puddles, an Australian Labradoodle. The dogs’ visits have had a hugely positive impact on pupils’ educational and social development. The children look forward to spending time with their four-legged friends – particularly boarders who might be missing their own pets at home. Rio and Muddy Puddles also enjoy spending time with pupils out in the school’s beautiful Somerset grounds, offering a non-judgmental ear when they want to chat about their worries. ‘I love it when Muddy Puddles comes to school,’ says one. ‘I only like reading to Muddy as he sits and listens and I can stroke him at the same time and I feel very happy.’

Saint Ronan's
Farm Manager Debbie Dalloway

There's plenty of outdoorsy fun to be had at this deliciously rural Kent prep, particularly on the school farm. Farm manager Debbie Dalloway is Saint Ronan’s unsung hero, who runs her own pig farm but has also worked tirelessly at the school for nearly 15 years. Under her care, the school farm has grown exponentially, and it’s now home to rare breed pigs and sheep (including sow Lady Emma, who is hugged, cleaned, paraded and overfed by loving pupils), chickens, ducks, guinea pigs, goats, peacocks and donkeys. A normal day for Debbie might include extracting a chicken from the laser cutter so an engineering class can resume; showing the children how to shear the school’s Ryeland sheep; shepherding animals to appear in whole school photographs; and tracking down escapologist goats Thelma and Louise. The children absolutely adore her.

Holmewood House School
Housekeeper Catherine Lutchmaya

Friendly, kind, supportive and always willing to step in with efficiency and good humour, Catherine heads the cleaning team at Holmewood House. ‘Nothing is too much trouble for Catherine, whether it’s repairing a blazer for a boarder or helping any pupils with any problem regarding washing or getting them back in shape following a paint spill in art or DT,’ says the school’s boarding housemaster. ‘No matter how hard the challenge, she always steps up, and there has never been a time when she’s not willing to roll up her sleeves and do the job that needs doing,’ says the school.

Repton School

Father Adam, Chaplain

Father Adam was first chaplain at Repton from 2006 to 2016, returning in September 2021 after the tragic death of his wife Sue, whom he met when she was a matron at the school. For Father Adam, this was a ‘return home’, and brought him back into the heart of a familiar and happy environment. ‘We are so proud to have Adam as our chaplain,’ says assistant deputy head pastoral Anna Parish. ‘It takes him so long to walk through the village because he stops to speak to literally everyone. Everyone knows Adam and a conversation with him will lift the experience of even the most challenging of days. In one moment, he can make you laugh out loud with the hilarity of what he is saying; moments later, you can hear a pin drop as he stills the chapel with a profound word. He makes our community richer for his presence – and we are a better community because he is with us.’ And the pupils certainly agree. ‘Father Adam is the kindest man on the earth and is always willing to lend an ear and is a friendly face,’ says lower-sixth-former Emily. ‘Chapel this year has really helped me with my public-speaking,’ adds Caitlyn. ‘Father Adam’s sermons always have a hook. They are funny, engaging and inspirational.’

Repton Prep School
Jumble, Norfolk Terrier

Jumble started coming to school when he was just three months old, bringing unbounded joy to the school community – so much so that he even has a place in the Repton prospectus. A typical day might include going for walks with the youngest children in the woods, sitting quietly on the edge of the sports pitches avidly watching every ball and causing moments of chaos by running through the dining room during boarders’ tea. Much-loved Jumble isn’t the only dog here – there’s also a lovely Welsh corgi, beautiful spaniel and gorgeous terrier, all bringing a wonderful family feel to this special school.

Queen’s College London
Pietro Venesiani, Caretaker

Pietro has spent the past 19 years as a real linchpin of Queen’s College. Not only is he the first to arrive and the last to leave each day, he’s also responsible for setting up almost every event across both the prep- and senior-school sites (often up to six or seven events per day). The school tells us they’ve lost count of the number of times he’s swooped in to save the day – whether that’s finding extra chairs at a moment’s notice, fixing a crucial microphone or even climbing out onto the roof to untangle the College flag for an open day. He’s a man of many talents, packing up hundreds of donated items for the school’s Food Bank Fridays, putting up Christmas decorations, making scenery for drama productions, stripping, sanding and polishing the art-room floor and even sorting out plumbing emergencies. He was also a key member of the staff Tough Mudder team, raising over £20,000 for the school’s 175th anniversary bursary appeal. ‘He is one of the most dedicated, selfless and reliable people I’ve ever met. Modest and unassuming, he never seeks out praise or the limelight – but his hard work and organisation are the bedrock of so much that makes Queen’s the vibrant community we all enjoy each day,’ says principal Richard Tillett.

Canford School
Di Harris, Catering Manager

It’s certainly true that an army marches on its stomach – and here at Canford, the catering team plays a vital role helping pupils march towards academic and sporting greatness. The Harris family have been at the school for almost half a century, and Di was just 10 when her parents started working here. Today, she’s a permanent fixture in the front-of-house team. Her favourite part of the job, she says, is all the running about she has to do to make sure her pupils and guests are always properly attended to (the fact that her favourite subject at school was home economics surely helps). Things could have been quite different – Di sometimes admits that as a 16-year-old, she was once asked out by a foreign prince who was studying at Canford on a summer course. Di’s sister Kaz has been working in the catering department for 29 years – all of her working life so far.

Tonbridge School
Barbara Pring, International Student Liaison Officer

Barbara was for many years one of Tonbridge’s boarding-house matrons; today, she is its international student liaison officer and runs an exciting and varied programme of trips during exeats, both in the UK and Europe. ‘Barbara has looked after hundreds of Tonbridge boys, not just sorting out their laundry and putting plasters on their cuts and wounds, but being a mother to them,’ says Richard Burnett, Tonbridge’s director of admissions. ‘These days, she’s the go-to person for any overseas parent who has a question, a flight change or any type of worry.’ And with a healthy 10 per cent of Tonbridge pupils boarding from overseas, her logistical skills are nothing short of incredible. ‘She has an enviable reputation at Heathrow, where she is personally known by all the airlines and has yet to miss getting a single student on to their flight, even when Covid restrictions were at their toughest,’ adds admissions officer Veryan Larmour.

Hazlegrove School
Graham Kitley, Head Groundsman

This gorgeous Somerset prep has one of the most idyllic country settings we’ve ever set eyes on – in huge part thanks to Hazlegrove’s head groundsman Graham. ‘First impressions really count, and I don’t run an open day without a parent commenting on how beautiful the grounds look,’ says Ali Rogers, Hazlegrove’s head of admissions and marketing. Completely dedicated to ensuring that everything is pitch-perfect throughout the year, Graham overseas the grounds at both Hazlegrove and the senior school, King’s Bruton – and has even done a number of interviews with magazines over the years to discuss the machinery and techniques he uses, proving just how much he lives and breathes his work at the school.

Cranleigh School & Cranleigh Prep School
Lauren Carcey, Head Gardener

Lauren Carcey, Cranleigh School and Cranleigh Prep School’s head gardener, has horticulture in her blood (her great-grandparents owned a nursery in Peaslake, while her grandparents were greengrocers), and she was first drawn to Cranleigh for its sweeping grounds and huge variety of trees (there are over 1,000 on campus), plants, shrubs, bedding plants and lawns requiring constant care. She’s known to regularly exceed 20,000 steps during her working day – and she regularly leads workshops with Cranleigh Prep pupils on apple pruning in the school orchard (where some of the trees date back to the 1940s) and shares her love of sustainable gardening with staff and pupils alike. This summer, Lauren will graduate with a masters in horticulture from the Royal Horticultural Society, having used her experience at Cranleigh to develop her studies. She is always on a quest to expand her knowledge – and even recently completed a bee-keeping course.

Heathfield School
Bill Fejza, Minibus Driver

In his role as minibus driver at Heathfield, Bill Fejza has gone above and beyond the call of duty, proactively fixing any issues himself, taking on the booking of MOTs and liaising directly over other maintenance requirements – a job previously taken on by the bursar. He also does a sterling job washing the minibuses inside and out so they are always spotless, regularly covers other drivers’ routes and even acts as the first point of contact if a minibus breaks down so he can swoop in and pick up pupils from the scene. ‘He basically fixes any problems,’ says the school. ‘He sees what needs doing, and does it.’ And his tireless work doesn’t stop there – Bill has also helped staff move in and out of school accommodation, and once spent eight hours photocopying students’ work before an ISI inspection when there weren’t enough admin staff around to do the job. He has even agreed to help move furniture in readiness for Heathfield’s summer school. And all with a smile on his face.

Marymount International School London
Annie Plumridge, Deputy Head of Boarding

Annie has been a vital member of the boarding community at Marymount London for two years, acting in loco parentis for pupils alongside looking after her own young family and working tirelessly to create a real home-from-home ethos. When the school’s head of boarding suffered an injury recently, Annie stepped up to take over the role of managing the boarding staff without notice, embracing the challenge without hesitation (and most importantly, overseeing a boarders’ trip to Disneyland amidst all the extra work she’d taken on). ‘Annie is the calm, nurturing presence that has selflessly steered the boarding house ship for the past several weeks with the assistance of her wonderful team. She has helped our students navigate their exams, graduations, celebrations, lights out and tearful goodbyes from our graduates with a smile. A true Marymount ambassador and someone who lives out the values and ethos of the school – and the person whom the toughest or most loving parent would want overseeing their child’s wellbeing and comfort at school,’ says the school.

Canadian International School, Singapore
Joanna Lim, General Manager

Joanna has been an integral part of Canadian International School’s expansion, arriving here in 1993 when it was just two years old. Since then, she has been involved in numerous projects over the course of the school’s history and growth, seeing it grow from its original campus to, at one point, four separate sites. In her crucial role, she works to ensure that facilities evolve and meet changing pupil needs – and at the same time, guarantees that the campus remains a safe and healthy learning environment for all.

Tanglin Trust School, Singapore
Josephine Chang, Junior Resource Assistant, Junior Library

 Josephine – a true inspiration to everyone in the Tanglin Trust community – has been at the school for 21 years, starting out as housekeeping assistant and working her way through the ranks. Jo joined the junior school in 2016 as a junior resource assistant, focusing on curriculum support. Today, she works in the junior library, focusing on library-specific duties such as the return, scanning and general organisation of library books and resources. She’s also passionate about looking after the environment, and helps with the preparation of art and craft materials using recycled items found on campus. ‘The best part about working in Tanglin is the opportunity for growth,’ says Josephine. ‘Moving forward, I hope to be able to learn more IT-related skills, especially from my younger, more tech-savvy bosses and colleagues!’

Bangkok Patana School
Khun Dany, Security Manager

As the security manager at Bangkok Patana School, Khun Phattanachai Intarayotha (or Khun Danny, as he is known) takes student safeguarding incredibly seriously. You’ll find him at the school gates every morning, radiating his infectious warmth and always with a big smile on his face. He is also a huge asset to other departments in the school, working closely with the services and reception teams and lending a hand with any tasks that might arise. ‘He is honest, and funny, creating an enjoyable and trustworthy environment that is appreciated by parents, students and staff alike,’ says the school.