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Living and learning

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THE 250-pupil new school with the 15 governors where Mary Cookson was interviewed to become deputy head next September is Broughton St John's primary - which has the impressive score of 100% in the SATS

"That is very scary!" she says in mock horror, a stance which should not fool any of those new governors, staff or pupils when they meet someone whose current head teacher says of her: "She has been a loyal and committed team member and has a wonderfully friendly way with pupils."

Michael Collins, who has been Mary's boss since they joined Longridge CE Primary in Berry Lane almost at the same time in 1992, added that although the school was delighted at her promotion, it was tinged with sadness at losing someone who had immersed herself so fully in the life of the school and community.

Mary herself faces her own sadness at leaving a school where she has taught in every classroom except reception and Y6, and where her skills have majored particularly in RE, child protection, literature and sport since the beginning.

But it was in her own beginnings growing up on the family farm in Hurst Green that her life qualities were set and nurtured.

Her parents, Jack and Gladys Pennington, who still manage the beef and sheep business with the help of their sons, imbued all their four children with the importance of traditional community living, everyone working together and having a strong vision for the future.

Singing in the village church choir, schooling in Hurst Green and at Clitheroe Grammar School, an early love of sport which could have dictated her career choice had she not chosen three years' teacher training at Oxford's Lady Spencer Churchill College... all have helped to influence what Mary describes as an unswerving passion for giving children the best education possible.

"That philosophy does not alter wherever you are," she stresses. "Even though we have faced enormous changes in education since I started, it is the children who are obviously still the most important.

"They need that early intervention in learning, letters, books, which all round good teaching can give them, even more now as there are so many distractions which can take them away from learning."

One thing Mary seems to be renowned for, however, is making her teaching and involvement with school life fun as well as serious.

With the latter, she has made remarkable strides in all three areas of skills which she took on way back in 1992 when she started.

From the earlier programme on child protection, she has become the special needs co-ordinator and learning support manager for helping youngsters get back on target. Holding a firm faith since childhood - the family worships with St Lawrence with St Paul parish where husband Ian is a sidesman - she has also been RE co-ordinator with special responsibility for the former day school anniversaries and for the annually observed Education Sunday.

And her responsibilities within the school and parish community have included helping with the Spring Fair, with coffee rotas at St Paul's - and being a member of the parish's Handbell Ringers.

In the days when the Rev Richard Awre was Longridge's vicar and Mary was secretary of the church social committee, she recalls an 'amazing' time when the pupils performed in the Preston Schools Pageant for the 1992 Preston Guild.

"Alison Awre was also on the committee with Marion Cooper and Glenys and Ian Cragg, and we had a street party afterwards to which the town crier came from Preston!" she remembered with characteristic delight.

Mary's hard work promoting literary skills has enthused her many pupils through her own love of books and words, and she has involved the fun element as literary co-ordinator via the book weeks, character days, the literary hour and by welcoming visiting authors such as Paul Cookson and Wes McCree to talk to the children.

Field Days for the school in Longridge would not have been the same without Mary's skills - sadly this year's float will be her swansong with her final entry for this annual community event next Saturday, June 9 - and her creative abilities have also enhanced many productions and displays the school has put on.

That career in sport she gave up in favour of teaching has been more than made up for in Mary's team membership of Garstang Ladies Hockey Club, where she was captain for many years and where daughter Lindsey is now a member.

At Berry Lane, she has looked after the girls' games and short tennis clubs, as well as supporting further family sport involvement, as husband Ian is both a player for Longridge Town FC and a member of Bowland Runners.

Teachers she has worked with and who have influenced her career have included John Turner, acting head when she started, and Margaret Edwards, head teacher when Mary worked part-time at Berry Lane while children Lindsey and Christopher were small.

Other part-time posts were at Garstang County and Whitechapel and Bilsborrow primary schools - but she looks back with affection to the team she started with at Berry Lane - Michael Collins, John Whittaker and Caroline Alston - and who have stayed complete until Mr Whittaker's retirement and now her own appointment to Broughton.

"And I must mention Granny Seed, who has been my right hand woman and helper extraordinary for so many years - I would love to take her with me!" Mary adds with characteristic fervour.

So the stepping stones that have marked her career lead on in September to Broughton with its head teacher Mrs Michelle Gaydon, new colleagues and new experiences.

Mary will have to relinquish her governorship at Berry Lane and her posts on the curriculum and finance committees - but she will take with her her firmly stated passion for children and for teaching at a 'fantastic' school.

She says: "My last day of term is also the farewell to Year 6 - I am leaving at the same time as them so I have a feeling emotions will be quite high!"

In a glowing tribute, her colleague and head Michael Collins says: "Mary Cookson is one of the senior teachers at the school and has been a loyal and committed team member for 16 years.

"She has worked very hard to develop the literacy skills of pupils and has recently been an excellent special needs co-ordinator, supporting many children and families.

"Mrs Cookson has a wonderfully friendly way with pupils who enjoy her company and being in her class. One of her great strengths has been to establish excellent relationships with parents and grandparents, who will miss her so much when she leaves.

"The school is delighted that Mrs Cookson has achieved a deserved promotion to deputy head teacher. This, though, is tinged with sadness as the school will be losing someone who has immersed herself in the full life of the school community - links with the church and parish, a busy involvement in the Parent, Teacher and Friends Association, and her yearly enthusiasm and involvement in Field Day.

"I would like to wish Mary every success in her new post and thank her for her huge contribution to the life and learning at Longridge CE Primary School."