Award-winning head bows out after 35 years in education

Bavaani Nanthabalan retires from Netley Primary School after 9 years as a headteacher

Wednesday, 1st December 2021 — By Harry Taylor

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Baavani Nanthabalan on the day of her retirement party at Netley Primary School

A FORMER “headteacher of the year” celebrated her retirement with a party on Friday.

Bavaani Nanthabalan, has rounded off her 35- year teaching career in Camden with nine years as executive head of Netley Primary School in Regent’s Park.

She was surprised on BBC’s The One Show last year when she won the National Headteacher of the Year award.

The next day Ms Nanthabalan was shown a video by a parent of a pupil jumping around the living room after seeing her win the trophy. It is one of her favourite memories.

It was so nice because you don’t realise the impact you have on your community and the children because you take it for granted, because that’s what you’re there to do, and that’s what you love doing,” she said.

Her retirement marks the end of a long journey in teaching for the now 64-year-old, who arrived in the UK with her husband and two children, armed with two suitcases.

She had trained as a teacher in Singapore, following in her teacher father’s footsteps and moved to the UK to seek help for her son who was profoundly deaf.

She started off at Argyle School in King’s Cross, becoming deputy headteacher before moving to Torriano school in Kentish Town.

She then took on Netley as executive head in 2012 – lifting the school out of special measures to one with a “good” Ofsted rating.

I walked into the school being told ‘can you raise standards’, thinking ‘that’s fine, I can do it’, without realising there’s a £25m building work that was going to take place,” she said.

I had no idea that was what I was getting myself into, particularly at that time having a lovely junior school built in one building.”

The school then integrated the other services on site including a pupil referral unit (PRU) and centre for autism into what is now known as the “Netley Campus”.

She praised the school’s parents and community and said staff were “prepared to do the hard work of taking the school to the next level”.

It was something that came into sharp focus during the pandemic, where many children had to learn from home. She and other teachers drove around delivering food and equipment to families.

Parents and families had fears about leaving the house,” she said.

We delivered food to their doorstep, we opened up our Netley grocery store, some parents liked the opportunity to come to school which meant there was someone to talk to.”

HS2 has been an issue that has blighted Regent’s Park and Euston, and she was close to tears in 2016 when she told a House of Lords committee what the work could do to pupils’ wellbeing.

When asked five years on what the impact had been, she added that some staff have been mugged because of the hoardings and poor lighting.

In 20 years time, probably you won’t recognise Euston but you have to bear in mind it’s at the expense of a lot of disruption and grief for the families.”

Her plans are to retire to travel and “seek other adventures” in the arts.

Ms Nanthabalan is a former professional dancer who used to tour with the Ravi Shankar dance theatre production, and was a member of the Singapore National Dance Company.

I think I’m a good role model for the children here, especially the girls, I am also brown, I am Asian, and I’m a successful headteacher. Every child in my class has had to dance too, and they’ve had to do music and drama.

I know 35 years ago when I came to this country with two large suitcases, two children, not knowing anyone here, I would never have thought I’d be where I am now, so happy and confident. I hope I’ve made others happy too.”

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