She came for a year. She decided to stay for a second. Now, a full decade later Kim Tupper is leaving as the headteacher of the Oakfield Project.

And the place will, literally, never be the same again.

When it opens again after the summer holidays the alternative education provision will be merged with another, similar initiative, run by Swindon Borough Council – Education Other Than At School (EOTUS).

In her cramped office in the not overly-salubrious buildings off Marlow Avenue Kim is the centre of a small storm.

As I’m interviewing her, a student needs something signed and photocopied to take to the college she’ll be attending next term, staff come in and ask what they should be doing, and where are the keys – it could be rather trying.

But the one thing Kim isn’t is impatient. With anybody. She’s got time, and some words for everyone.

The other thing she isn’t is “Mrs Tupper” Everybody seems to refer to her as “Mrs T.”

She says: “I’m not sure how that started.

“I came here from Nova Hreod school where I was assistant headteacher. I’d been seconded here for a year. That was extended for another year, and after that I decided I wanted to stay.

“I suppose I was used to being Mrs Tupper at Nova, but all the staff here were called by their first names. One of the students started calling me Mrs T, and it just stuck.”

She doesn’t like talking about herself – but get Mrs T onto the Oakfield Project – and what it offers to children who are struggling in mainstream schools, and she’s got a lot to say.

“It’s a unique project that we’re very lucky to have here. It takes children in Years 10 and 11 at 14 to 16, who are struggling in mainstream schools. They are referred to use by the school, or their parents – and we take 32 pupils a year. They children who come here are at risk of being permanently excluded.

“And if that happens, at that age, there’s a real risk they drop out of the system. They drop out of education altogether and face a much harder future.

“We take them on, and what we do is here is a mixture of education and youth work. We have time for every child. We promise we will listen to them and really try and address what they need.”

There are eight staff at Oakfield, for 32 pupils, and the youngsters are able to continue, or return to, academic classes, but also take part in wide-ranging activities.

Mrs T said: “Pupils can do English and maths and science.

“We had a 91.7 per cent A* to C in English GCSE last year, and 48.7 per cent in maths, but they can also learn other skills.

“Food technology for example, and the Friends of Oakfield got the funding for a minibus, and pupils have helped maintain that.

“Their Enterprise project is well known in businesses in Swindon.

“We have a 100 per cent acceptance rate at colleges for this year, and pupils go on to college, they go on to university.

“They have different pathways to educational success, that they might not have found is this project wasn’t here.

“And a lot of them come back to see us. There’s one who always comes back to visit when they’re in Swindon who always brings us biscuits. It’s lovely to see them.

“That’s what I’m proudest of I think.

“The successful outcomes for the children. The success they make of it.”

As part of its merger with EOTAS, The Oakfield Project will continue to operate from its buildings in east Swindon, and its staff are staying on. Mrs T said: “I’ll be sad to go, of course, but I know it’s in good hands.”

Head of education at Swindon Borough Council, which funds both the project and EOTAS, Peter Nathan said: “The Oakfield Project moving into EOTAS provision will have a number of advantages without affecting the


“It will benefit from additional administrative and financial support as well as having greater access to curriculum expertise.

“It will also secure its future in terms of the way the project is funded.”

What Pupils Say

Youngsters who have experienced the teaching, and the care for them, at the Oakfield Project are unanimous in their praise for Mrs T and the staff.

Ryan Redgate, 15, from Redhouse, found himself at the project after being excluded from a number of schools. He was one of the students who took part in preparing and serving the buffet at the final Come Dine with Oakfield, a celebration of the school and Mrs Tupper for its friends and supporters last week. He said: “I have problems controlling my anger sometimes.

“In ordinary schools they’d just say I wasn’t allowed to behave like that, and I was excluded a few times. They just didn’t know what to do with me.

“Here all the staff understand that you’re going to get angry, and they know what to do, and how to give me space and let me calm down.

“They’re very sympathetic and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve had a lot of opportunities. I’ve learned cooking skills, we went on a trip to the SS Great Britain not long ago.

“In a mainstream school I’d just be in isolation a lot, and I’d be bored, or angry and I wouldn’t want to be there. I like coming here now and I’m feeling much better about my future.”

Zoe Dennis and Chloe Baker, both 15, also have bright days ahead. They’re going to college to study beauty therapy after their time at Oakfield.

Chloe said: “That’s something I want to work in, and I’m felling really confident and happy about it. My time here has been 100 per cent better than in a mainstream school.”

What Others Say

Headteachers say the Oakfield Project gives them another way of helping children to complete their education.

Gary Pearson, principal at Lydiard Park Academy said: “It’s very important to us. We probably send one or two children to Oakfield a year.

“It’s the mixture of education and youth work that works so well. It means that children who don’t do well in mainstream schools aren’t lost to education altogether.

“As a teacher you don’t want to permanently exclude pupils at all. That’s very much a last resort and something to be avoided. The Oakfield Project is a vital provision which means that pupils who are at risk of permanent exclusion can carry on in education. And its results are really good- most of the pupils go on to college, whether to study vocational courses or academic ones - and it means they have much better prospects.”

Peter Nathan, Swindon Borough Council’s head of education, said: “Kim has led the Oakfield Project for 10 years and has transformed it into an excellent provision for 14 to 16 year olds to give them a second chance in their schooling.

“It has helped so many young people at quite difficult times in their lives. Kim will be sorely missed by all who have worked with her but the Oakfield Project is in a very strong place.

“There are plans to upgrade the building and also to work with schools to continue to provide excellent provision for the young people that benefit from this approach to their education. We wish Kim all the best in her retirement.”