DURING 18 years at the helm of Stourfield Infant School, headteacher Catherine Kirkham has seen many changes.

From a small first school, it has blossomed into a successful and popular infant school.

Recent years have seen it grow as the demand for school places in Bournemouth continues to rise.

But its growth has not affected the family feel of the school, which now educates 390 young people on its Cranleigh Road, Southbourne site.

The current reception year group arrived in September in five forms of entry, one of the biggest infant year groups in the borough.

But Mrs Kirkham hopes entry will revert to four forms in the future. The school is deceptively large but new recruits are educated in a separate wing to other year groups.

And the oldest children in the school are only seven-years-old, making the environment less intimidating for little ones.

From there, most move to neighbouring Stourfield Junior before progressing to secondary school.

Mrs Kirkham is one of a number of Bournemouth headteachers who have joined forces to create the Ocean Collaborative Trust. Other members of the trust are Stourfield Junior, St Katharine’s, St Luke’s, Kings Park, Heathlands, and the Bethany and St Clement’s Federation.

She said: “We take a collective responsibility to keep improving educational provision in each other’s schools. Staff work across the schools.”

Mrs Kirkham is proud of her school and its values, which include encouraging children to develop their thinking skills and to communicate well with each other.

“We have a diverse and brilliant community in this school.

“Our children are delightful and they genuinely want to please us and to do their best.”

The school covers a wide catchment area which takes in much of Southbourne, Littledown, Tuckton and Boscombe East.

Despite many arriving at the age of four with skills below the expected level, they leave with attainment levels above the national average.

This year will see the introduction of a new curriculum, which will bring new challenges to schools. And the school will also introduce a full hot meals service.

“There is always a new challenge in my job which is why I love it,” added Mrs Kirkham. “It is a very exciting time.”