End of era as Burnley head to retire

Kieran Heakin will retire at the end of the summer term.
Kieran Heakin will retire at the end of the summer term.

One of Burnley’s longest serving headteachers is stepping down after 21 years at the same school.

Mr Kieran Heakin will retire as head of St John the Baptist RC Primary School in Thames Avenue at the end of the summer term and his departure will mark the end of an era.

But far from taking his foot off the pedal, Mr Heakin (63) will be busy with his role as a Labour councillor in Rochdale where he has the role of Assistant Portfolio Head of Corporate Services.

This means he will have responsibility for a range of services including libraries and community centres.

A former Mayor of Whitworth, Mr Heakin was appointed to St John’s when it was a junior school in 1994.

In 2006 it became a primary school and, four years later, after a £2.5m. refurbishment and extension, the infants were re-located there from their base in Ivy Street, the school’s original home.

Mr Heakin said: “It has been like three headships into one and I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute.

“I love coming to school every day, that has never left me. The children I have taught are caring and spirited and their parents have been supportive and helpful.

“Burnley has its own unique sense of identity, it is rather like a large village where everyone is proud of where they live and they have a real sense of belonging and pride. I have absolutely loved being a part of that.”

Describing his 21 years at St John’s as a “rollercoaster ride”, Mr Heakin thought his career was over in 2009 when he was brutally attacked in a restaurant in Rochdale which left him with a broken nose and cheekbone, fractured eye socket, broken jaw and badly bruised ribs.

The attack left Mr Heakin deaf in one ear, deteriorated sight in one eye and he also lost his sense of taste and smell.

He spent 10 weeks recovering before returning to school to a hero’s welcome. Pupils, staff and parents clapped and cheered as he drove through the gates and the school was decked out with “welcome back” banners, posters and cards for the much-loved head.

Mr Heakin, who received 400 cards from well wishers after the attack, said: “That was the best day of my life. While recovering, I wondered if I would ever be able to teach again but I was determined to get well and not let all that I had worked for go to waste.

“It was a major setback but I certainly wasn’t going to let it ruin my life. The support I received from everyone at the school and connected to it was the key to my recovery, they helped me to claim my life back.”

Mr Heakin also believes his strong Catholic faith and ability to forgive helped him heal and move on with his life.

A man was later found guilty of causing grievous bodily harm with intent and jailed indefinitely when he appeared before Bolton Crown Court.

After training as a teacher at Christ College, Liverpool, Mr Heakin taught at schools in Liverpool, Rochdale, Accrington and Oldham.

He opened the first Catholic nursery in Rochdale after establishing a private playgroup and then converting it. Mr Heakin undertook special training to set up the playgroup and can lay claim to being the first male registered childminder in the North and possibly the country.

Mr Heakin lives in Rochdale with his wife Angela and the couple have three children and three grandchildren. Originally from Salford, Mr Heakin is one of nine children and is looking forward to a trip to Lourdes with seven of those siblings after his retirement. He also enjoys playing golf.

After a career spanning 40 years, Mr Heakin’s advice for those thinking of entering the teaching profession is to keep your sense of humour!

He said: “It is important to keep your health and wellbeing and retain your sense of humour. That is vital in the job today when there is so much pressure on teachers and I have seen many go under.”