Heart attack helped head save school

Good times: Head Claire Holgate celebrates the latest results at Lowerhouse Junior School, Burnley, with Deacon Greenwood, Millie Cain, Jacob Routh and Cady Garnett.
Good times: Head Claire Holgate celebrates the latest results at Lowerhouse Junior School, Burnley, with Deacon Greenwood, Millie Cain, Jacob Routh and Cady Garnett.

When headteacher Claire Holgate took on the job of turning round the failing Lowerhouse Junior School, many believed it was an impossible task.

The school was languishing in special measures after a damning Ofsted report which branded teaching and pupils’ attainment inadequate and faced being turned into an academy by the Government.

But the 37-year-old had faced extreme adversity before after suffering a near fatal cardiac arrest which saw her heart stop four times while she was out jogging in 2012.

The mother-of-two’s sheer determination saw her back out running just four weeks after her heart attack horror ordeal.

It was this same steely resolve that saw Claire take on her first headteaching role at Lowerhouse and spearhead the school’s transformation from failing to flying in barely 12 months – seeing the school rated good by Ofsted in its recent report.

Speaking about her heart attack, she said: “I am massively into fitness and exercise and run 15 miles a week. I have always been incredibly fit.

“One of my arteries collapsed in on itself and gave me a heart attack when I was out running. My husband is a police inspector – he knows how to do CPR.

“I was in a coma for four days. I am in a 2% club – there are only 2% of people who have heart attacks outside hospital who survive so I was very, very lucky.”

She said the near-death experience has now made every day special, adding: “I was back running in a few weeks. I am incredibly determined.”

Within two days of returning to her role as deputy headteacher at Lowerhouse in 2013, Ofsted published the damning report on the school which plunged it into special measures.

Barely a month later and Claire stepped into her first role as headteacher at the failing school.

She said: “The report was devastating. A lot of staff were heartbroken. So we had to pick them up and use it as a motivation. We wanted to make the front page for the right reasons.

“I was not daunted though – I like a challenge. School improvement is a passion of mine and making sure children and staff are achieving what they are capable of achieving.”

Claire said the rebuilding job had to start at the very bottom and every aspect of school life had to be scrutinised and reviewed.

Weekly staff meetings would see staff look at everything from uniform and target setting in the curriculum to bringing in support workers to go out to children and families to offer help.

Teachers wanted to change the whole culture at school bringing in a creative curriculum to inspire the children and taking pupils on educational trips every six weeks to places such as Sealife Centre and Cadbury’s World.

“The staff have worked incredibly hard. They have worked all hours.

“We have focused on changing the whole curriculum so children are interested and engaged.

“We have done a lot of active learning and making sure the children are not passive in lessons.

“We have been rigorously monitoring every aspect of the school and make sure everyone plays their part.”

Claire said she was determined to prove Ofsted inspectors wrong – that a school could go from special measures to good in such a short space of time.

She was in school every day of last summer and even came in at night in a bid to help change the fortunes of the school.

Her dedication inspired staff, pupils, parents and governors and her leadership proved a catalyst for change 
at the Lowerhouse Lane school.

When the Ofsted report came back as good it was a triumphant moment for everyone at Lowerhouse and 
now they are planning to become outstanding in the next inspection.

Claire said: “I think the proudest moment was coming out as good but seeing teaching get to 100% because I knew that is what they were capable of. Now we want to be outstanding and we are looking forward to the challenge.”