Brent headteacher reflects on 40-year career: ‘1,200 pupils were outside 10 minutes before tornado struck’

Mike Hulme with QPCS pupils outside the school

Mike Hulme with QPCS pupils outside the school - Credit: Archant

An office lined with posters from school plays staged years ago and artworks by students who have long since left has, for 12 years, been the daytime home of Queen’s Park Community School (QPCS) headteacher Mike Hulme.

Mike Hulme

Mike Hulme - Credit: Archant

But the start of the summer holidays signals the end of his time at the Brondesbury secondary school, as he retires after 40 years working in Brent education.

The 61-year-old will finish his career back where he started in 1976 teaching woodwork at what was then Aylestone High School, which later merged with two others to form QPCS in 1989.

From teaching the grandchildren of late Labour Party stalwart Tony Benn to facing a criminal on the run from police who had entered the school and disguised himself as a pupil – the last 12 years have been far from quiet for Mr Hulme.

“The area has changed hugely, and I recall that the big houses around here that are really expensive now were all bedsits,” he reflected.

The father-of-two climbed his way up the career ladder at Ayleston and then QPCS. But he left in 1999 to head up the Brent division of a Labour Party initiative called Excellent in Cities, which tackled underachievement, and provided for gifted and talented pupils.

During this time, he oversaw the £34.3million re-build and expansion of QPCS in 2003 – a year before he was offered the headship.

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Among his proudest achievements at the oversubscribed school is securing academy status “our way – not the government’s”.

“We converted for the right reasons, to get the extra funding to do what we needed with the school,” said Mr Hulme, who lives in Ealing. “We were the only Brent school where the teaching staff voted in favour of conversion because we did it in very transparent fashion.”

The job wasn’t without its share of challenges, however.

Mr Hulme says some of the darkest times were after pupil or staff deaths. The year he became head, newly-qualified teacher Robert Symons was murdered in his west London home.

Then, six years ago, 15-year-old pupil Abduljabbar Mohiddin was killed as he crossed the road.

“We come together as a community and work through it,” he said.

Mr Hulme was there when the infamous 2006 tornado ripped through the neighbourhood, touching down in the school’s playing field.

“It was lucky because 10 minutes before, 1,200 students had been on the field. It could have been a disaster,” he remembered.

Though he’s retiring, the educator won’t be putting his feet up anytime soon. He will work for the Brent Schools Partnership network of schools, chair the Brent-based educational charity the Promise Foundation, and work with Arts Council England to campaign against cuts to arts education.

He will also keep a toe in the water at QPCS, promising to build the set for next year’s school theatre production of Billy Elliot – his previous sets are said to have rivalled West End shows.

Mr Hulme is replaced by Judith Enright, who joins QPCS in September from Greenford High School in west London, where she is deputy headteacher.