Brighton head teacher gears up as others prepare for a break

Posted On 17 Jul 2012 at 8:59 pm

While most teachers will be looking forward to their summer holidays, Carolina Gopal is stepping up a gear for six incredibly busy weeks.

She is the head teacher of the Brighton and Hove Bilingual Primary School which plans to open in September.

Her job list for the summer includes recruiting the rest of her staff, overseeing building work and ordering all the equipment needed for the city’s first free school.

Miss Gopal, 43, is undaunted. She feels as though she was meant for this job.

She was born in Madrid – her mother is Spanish – and was brought up speaking Spanish and English. During her childhood she lived in Norway and Holland as her father worked in the oil industry.

When she was 12 she came to Brighton and went to Dorothy Stringer School and Varndean College.

Carolina Gopal

Since university, Miss Gopal has worked mostly in education with a stint in retail management. Her last job was at the British Council School in Madrid where 2,000 children enjoy a bilingual education. She rose rapidly through the ranks.

With the prospect of bringing the benefits of bilingual teaching to Brighton and Hove, she said that the chance was too good to miss, adding: “I heard about this post and thought this is what I’ve been looking for.

“I’ve come back to where I used to live. I’m giving something back to the community that gave me so much.”

In one of her teaching jobs, at a primary school in Essex, she saw for herself the effect of giving children the chance to learn another language.

She said: “The children had no aspiration. They weren’t achieving. And their parents had no aspiration for them.

“I ran a Spanish club and it was the busiest club all week. Their self-esteem went up.”

Having worked on a bilingual education project for the Spanish Ministry of Education, it wasn’t hard to see the need here.

She said: “They realised that their children weren’t learning English as well as they should be. I used to think why isn’t England doing something like this.”

Although Hove Park School is a specialist language school, the Bilingual Primary School takes things a step further.

The aim is to immerse the children in Spanish and English. For example, Miss Gopal said: “Lunch is going to be part of the curriculum. There will be a topic of the week. It will give the children the chance to put the Spanish they’re learning into practice.”

Carolina Gopal, Michael Gove and Marina Gutierrez

Last week parents of the pupils who are due to start in September came along to one of the regular update meetings. Miss Gopal said that parents already had a great networking group too.

And on Friday (13 July) the independent watchdog Ofsted carried out a “pre-registration” inspection to check on the state of readiness.

Miss Gopal added: “Everything is in place and everything is on track.”

Of course there is much work still to do. The school is due to open on Tuesday 4 September. For the first year it will be based on the same site as the Brighton Aldridge Community Academy in Falmer.

This means that some building work will be necessary when the current term is over. Work is also under way to find a permanent home in Portslade or possibly Hove.

Next Monday (23 July) children will take part in a second taster session at the school.

Miss Gopal will be busy trying to finalise the recruitment of fully bilingual teaching assistants.

And although the language learning is a key ingredient, first and foremost, Miss Gopal said: “This is about delivering excellent education.”

Britain’s first 24 free schools opened last September. Last week Miss Gopal and the driving force behind the project in Brighton and Hove, Marina Gutierrez, met the Education Secretary Michael Gove.

They invited him to the official opening, although with 60 more free schools welcoming children this September he will be spoilt for choice.

In the meantime, Miss Gopal has a busy summer ahead making sure that everything goes to plan. It’s a tough timetable and it’s sure to be an education.


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