An Interview with Dr Tracy Johnson

15th February 2017

An interview with our Headmistress, featured in the Feb/March edition of JLife Magazine.

What changes have you seen take place at the school while you have been head?

I joined Gateways as headmistress in September 2012 and one of the first changes I embarked upon was to change the catering! I had not intended to change anything immediately but I only just managed to get to the end of my first term before conducting a review of our provision.

I have also changed the timetable from a two-week to a one-week repeating structure, rethought our learning support provision right through the school, and embarked upon a major piece of work developing an academic curriculum that provides seamless transition from Year 4 through to Year 9.

Academically, we have risen over 200 places in the examination league tables during my time and Gateways is now the number one school in the whole of the UK for value added in maths and science at GCSE, and number seven nationally across all GCSE subjects. I’m very proud of that particular statistic!

Can you tell us about your teaching past?

I was born in Canada but spent most of my formative years in Northern Ireland.

My university days were spent in Scotland where I met my husband and got married.

I began my career teaching physics at Cheltenham College in Gloucestershire. At the time, the senior school at Cheltenham with a co-educational sixth form. This meant that my classroom experience was almost entirely boy-centered as not many girls chose to study A-level physics! I’m pleased to say that this has changed by the time I left 10 years later and I would like to think that I am at least partly responsible for the increase in the number of girls taking physics in the sixth form.

During my time at Cheltenham I was also housemistress of one of the girls’ houses. It was such a privilege to live and work so closely with the girls in my house and I am still in touch with many of them, although they are now getting married and having children of their own, making me feel very old!

I moved from Cheltenham in 2007 to become deputy head at another co-educational day and boarding school in Hampshire, Lord Wandsworth College, and then I moved to Gateways. All three schools are very different to one another and I think it is safe to say that I have now had experience in just about every market possible!

I love Leeds and Yorkshire in general because of the diversity of the area. It reminds me of Ireland and I felt at home here almost immediately.

Do you ever get the opportunity to teach now?

I teach all of the Year 7s physics when they join Gateways. I don’t always get to teach them for the full year but I make sure I get to spend some time in the classroom with all of them. This ensures that I know all of the girls in senior school and it keeps me in touch with the daily experiences of the teaching staff at my school. I’m very lucky to have been able to maintain a teaching commitment; it is the first thing many heads have to give up.

Gateways is an inclusive school that educates children from a variety of backgrounds. Can you tell us about your Jewish pupils?

About 20% of the school comes from a Jewish background; therefore it is an important consideration for me in lots of ways, from providing matzah during Passover and diary considerations to minimise any clashes with religious festivals or observances. It isn’t always possible of course but we do try our best!

What are your thoughts on the shortage of places among local state schools?

The shortage of school places locally is very worrying for all parents. But, it is a difficult one to solve because the bulge in school-age pupils will pass and therefore the motivation for a massive building programme to cope with it is understandably absent. Nobody wants to have school buildings sitting empty in five years’ time when the bulge has passed. However, that gives no comfort to parents who are facing the prospect of their child becoming lost in the crowd or being housed in less than ideal school accommodation. I have to say that it doesn’t really affect us here at Gateways as we have a maximum number of places available and once we are full, we are full! It is hard though to disappoint worried parents who decided to approach us after the state school places are announced only to find that, had they begun the process earlier, we might have been able to help.

Do any particular pupils stand out for you from your career to date?

Yes! Chelsy Davy (ex-girlfriend of Prince Harry) was in my boarding house at Cheltenham as was the affectionately named “Queenie” – daughter of the president of a small African country. She arrived with armed bodyguards who promptly closed off the road outside the boarding house while she moved her belongings in!

The pupils that most standout for me though are the ones to who I know I made a difference to, such as the fully funded pupil who was on a scholarship that supported children who had lost parents through death. His father was the one who had died and his mother was a young woman with addiction issues. He joined the school at age 11 with behavioural difficulties,  a patchy education and having been virtually written off by “the system” already. As deputy head in charge of pastoral and disciplinary matters, we saw quite a bit of each other during my time there. We left the school together in 2012, and he graduated from the University of Leeds three years later. He now has a successful career of his own and I know I made a difference to the path his life took. I’m immensely proud to have played a part in his journey.

What do you have planned for Gateways in 2017?

Consolidation of the new Year 4 to 9 curriculum, increasing out experience of the new GCSEs and A-Levels and becoming an active member of the Yorkshire Teaching School Alliance, which I am very excited about.