60 seconds with

We speak to Nicky Gillhespy, chief operating officer at LEO Academy Trust, about Barbies, impressive achievements and omelette competitions!

What led you to your current role?

I think I was in the right place at the right time! I had been SBM at Cheam Fields Primary School for over 10 years when the school joined the LEO Academy Trust and I was ready for a bigger challenge.

Something unusual or interesting about yourself?

I am the longest serving SBL in my local area – 30 years this May! My job has seen me through the best and worst of times and has been the stability in my life. I was a single mum for most of my two children’s school years – my children are the light of my life and I am extremely proud of them. They both graduated from university and I now have a grandchild too.

Favourite aspect of being an SBM

Obviously, the variety, with no two days ever being the same but, in all honesty, being able to feel that I have personally made a difference. I ran a Barbie Club one year at school which the children who are now in Year 6 still talk about! We learnt lessons playing with the Barbie (and Ken) dolls like ‘sharing is caring’ and ‘to have a good friend you need to be a good friend’ and the club was as popular with boys as it was girls. I became known as ‘the Barbie lady’, which I took as a compliment.

Greatest professional achievement?

In my time as an SBL I have been a NASBM trustee and the NAHT SBL representative on the executive council. I am an ISBL fellow, and was primary SBM of the year back in 2012! In my current role I have enjoyed transferring seven school kitchens into one, in-house, catering service, and seeing the difference that providing healthy food which the children enjoy eating can make.

Where do you take inspiration from both work and life-wise?

My mum passed away in 2003 after a short fight with cancer. That made me realise that life is precious, and I wanted to make the most of it. At my mum’s funeral the overwhelming message from her friends was what a lovely lady she was, with strong morals and a kind heart, and I really just want to be remembered in the same way. I always try to help others when I can, but I will never allow my morals to be compromised – I left one job in the past for this reason. I am not afraid to speak out, especially to help another person who needs support, even if it makes me unpopular.

If there was one thing you could change about your job what would it be?

Unfortunately, the SBL profession is still not recognised by some other education professionals as being equal to other school leaders. Until the salary situation is sorted out this will always be the case, in my opinion.

Funniest SBM moment you’d care to share?

My funniest – and probably happiest – memories unfortunately do not involve children’s education, which would probably be the politically correct answer to this question. Mine all involve social SBM events and, in particular, the NASBM annual conferences of the by-gone years – anyone who attended will have a secret smile at this answer and know what I mean! Oh, and by the way, I won the omelette challenge one year for those who remember that being a thing.

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