‘She left a legacy to be proud of’ – Tributes paid to former Bassingbourn Village College principal

Former Bassingbourn Village College principal Val Harris has sadly died.

Former Bassingbourn Village College principal Val Harris has sadly died. - Credit: Archant

Tributes have been paid to an ‘inspirational and dedicated’ former principal of Bassingbourn Village College, who has sadly passed away after a long illness.

Art teacher Val Harris was appointed school principal in the late 1980s during a challenging time for the school, she remained at the helm until 1999 when she retired.

Former chair of governors John Penny said: “Val was inspirational, dedicated to a vision and very resilient in the face of challenges and difficulties.

She did not shirk difficult decisions and managed in a firm and fair manner. Although Val was always approachable she stuck by her principles and was not swayed away from her vision.

“She arrested the decline in the school role and thereby formed a stable base for BVC. Like others over the years, Val left a legacy she can be proud of.”

When Val took over, the Government was planning to encourage schools to move away from the time-honoured management through local education authorities. Cambs County Council proposed bringing the village vollege together with Gamlingay, a proposal the governors opposed.

“Val believed the school had the quality of staff needed to offer an excellent standard of education which would be attractive to parents,” said John.

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“After much thought, investigation and argument she persuaded the governors to seek separation from the county council and adopt Grant Maintained status. “The road was rocky. However, Val won the argument and eventually the minister found in favour of the school’s own proposal.

“Fast forward a few years, results were greatly improved and BVC was established as a secondary school of choice in the area.”

Val retired from her duties in 1999, and moved to Norfolk where she ran a B&B until her death.

Her deputy, Julienne Whipp, recalls Val with great affection: “Before the phrase ‘super head’ was coined, Val Harris was one.

“Before league tables were officially published, Val knew the measures of a good school. She had a clear vision of where she wanted the college to be and worked tirelessly to get there.

“She established a positive, achieving ‘can do’ ethos, involving staff and students at all levels.

“Val appointed excellent staff, changed the school uniform to help students take a pride in their college. She introduced the weekly Heron Newsletter for students and parents to report positive feedback and praise student achievement. Her attention to detail was legendary.

“Val saw the college change from a rural, modest under-subscribed school to double its size and become the second highest-achieving school in Cambs. Parents moved into the area to obtain a place.

Jenny Brown, Val’s PA for many years, described her as having “an iron fist with a beautiful hand, wearing a velvet glove.”

Art teacher Nicky Price also remembers Val: “She was a passionate art teacher, who continued to teach a small art class, despite her busy role as head. She enjoyed this time, as it took her away from the stresses of her normal day.

“On leaving, she donated two ornate sewing machines to the Art department, they are still used for still-life today. Val worked very hard. The school was open for evening classes most nights during the time she was here.

“Val and deputy Julienne Whipp would be last to leave at night and back in smart and fresh the next day. Val was prepared to join in school shows, and the image of her and Julienne in their Blues Brothers outfits at a surprise Christmas show is a memory that has not faded!”

“Val liked to make the college welcoming to visitors. There was always a cup of Earl Grey tea on offer and classical music playing in the Prom. She will be remembered as the head that kept the school going, when it was under real threat of closure. We all owe her an immense debt for that.”

Val passed away on Sunday. March 19, and is survived by her husband Andy Kerr and her extended family.

Her funeral is on Tuesday, April 11, at Edingthorpe Church, Norfolk, at 11.45am.