Ceri Russell – who started her career aged 22 under her maiden name of Ceri Jeffery and then as Ceri Pickersgill from 1982 to 2007 – will be leaving Kingslea Primary School, where she has been since 2006, on the last day of term on Friday, July 23.
The 64-year-old has been instrumental in inclusive education, supporting children with special educational needs and their families in many ways.
She is also the school’s safeguarding officer, has worked with children who have English as additional languages, and has been part of the vulnerable children team helping those with emotional needs which Ceri says has risen since the pandemic started.
She said: “I have really enjoyed it. I’ve always been quite passionate about including any child despite any differences and I’m really interested in things like dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism and how those things make a child work.
“But I’m also really passionate about looking how we set up learning in the classroom and how we adapt for those children because we aren’t one size fits all so I think that’s really important, and training up teaching assistants and staff so they recognise when a child has difficulties so they can adapt their practices.
“I love working with the parents as well. Problem solving with them, meeting up with them and seeing if they have any problems and pointing in the right direction for support. I’ve really enjoyed that part of my role.
“I will definitely miss being part of a great team at Kingslea as all my colleagues are brilliant. I am proud of the way that we at Kingslea strive to support all our pupils, whatever their needs, and their families and I wish the school every success in the future.”
After graduating from Bath University, Ceri accepted a job at Greenway Junior School in Horsham in 1979.
Ceri always had an interest in how children learn to read and was accepted on a special needs course in London while teaching at Greenway until 1986 when she had a three-year break to have her children.
She then joined St Leonard’s Infant School in Horsham in 1989 where she worked with children with additional needs and quickly became the special educational needs(SEN) cordinator for the school.
When St Leonard’s and Chesworth amalgamated, Ceri was appointed the inclusion manager for the then new Kingslea Primary School.
She continued teaching her own class, when during this time OFSTED called and it was highlighted that the workload was significant enough for the inclusion manager role to be made full time.
Alexis Conway, headteacher at Kingslea Primary said: “Ceri’s passion for supporting children with special educational needs and their families made the transition to full time a much welcomed challenge.
“Since then, Ceri has guided and counselled numerous families, children and teachers in inclusive education.
“The statutory systems surrounding special educational needs are not always easy to navigate and can be overwhelming for parents/carers; Ceri’s kindness and understanding has ensured parents/carers felt heard and valued.
“Ceri’s professionalism in the role of inclusion manager and the impact of her expertise, knowledge and enthusiasm for supporting children has helped many of them reach their potential. She has come full circle and has supported the children of her past pupils!
“It is with a mixture of emotions we wish Ceri all the best in the next chapter of her life.
“All of us at Kingslea Primary School are excited for her to (finally) begin her retirement adventures but we will miss our wonderful teacher, colleague and friend.
“The Kingslea Primary School community wishes Ceri all the very best for the future.”
Among many of Ceri’s career highlights includes joining the Friends of St Leonard’s Players (FOSLA) in 1990 alongside her husband, Tony.
The amateur dramatics group – which had the aim of producing and putting on shows in particular an annual pantomime for the children and parents of St Leonard’s – consisted mainly of school staff, parents and friends.
She said: “We had a great time practising and performing. We always did a matinee performance to the whole school in January and also evening performances. The children absolutely loved it!”
Before Covid, Ceri also enjoyed running a ‘family link’ service, alongside colleague Karen Harris, which saw her provide links to the school to look at children’s social and emotional needs so parents could support their children more effectively.
Ceri said: “I did that for a long time, twice a year for seven weeks where we would have a group of about nine or ten parents. I really enjoyed that, it was really rewarding seeing them get more confident in their skills with their children.
“It was lovely because we would bring the children in at the end of the session and they would do a shared activity and it was great. Their eyes would light up when they saw their mum or dad there.”
A retirement party for Ceri was set to take place at Horsham Football Club on July 15, but due to further coronavirus restrictions not being lifted until July 19, she is now planning to have a small party in a friend’s garden.
During her retirement, Ceri intends to do lots of walking and will travel Europe for a couple of years with husband Tony in their motorhome.