IN September 1994 Peter Williamson walked through the doors of Rockwell Green Primary as its bright new head teacher.
His simple ambition then, would remain the same throughout his teaching career: that above all else, his would be a happy school.
This summer he has officially hung up his cap after 20 years’ of service, and few can believe he’s really going, least of all Mr Williamson himself.
There were tears and big smiles all round on his final day; that fevered, end-of-term atmosphere of excitement amplified; the staff room turned a colourful explosion of confectionary, tea and wrapping paper.
Before that, he’d even had an assembly interrupted by officers from the Royal British Legion “with the standard and in full regalia”, who presented him with a certificate of thanks and a citation. The school’s pupils have tended the war graves in Rockwell Green for 18 of Peter’s 20 years.
“I was deeply moved by that,”
says Peter. “Like all of us I’ve always had respect for the work of the British Legion.
“My father served in the RAF in the Second World War. I think it’s important for children to learn what people have given.”
Having reached the end of his teaching career, Peter began reflecting on his beginnings … “My first day was very scary,” he tells the County Gazette.
“It was a very old-fashioned school, handed over to me as a really good school. There were flags of the nations hanging on poles in assembly, and it felt very formal and austere. And I’m not formal.
“It must’ve been a good day, because I remember I was whistling, and this little boy came past me, and said, ‘Mr Williamson, we’re not allowed to whistle, it’s a rule’.
“I said to him, ‘Well, I’m in charge now, and we’re going to whistle.’ “I didn’t enjoy school. I was off sick a lot. I was determined that my school was going to be a happy school.”
The man who originally harboured ambitions of being a reporter was lobbied into teaching by a father and a sister in the profession.
After completing his fouryear Bachelor of Education degree at Warwick University, Peter’s first posting was to a 1,600-strong boys’ middle school teaching English, swimming and drama.
“I did that for two years and it was a baptism of fire,” he says.
But when the opportunity came for him to pass over the border into Somerset, his heart was won; working at Curry Rivel Primary School, and Westover Green in Bridgwater, then on to Rockwell Green.
He’s called the county home ever since.
“You come home exhausted, but it’s rewarding,” he says.
For the last six years however Mr Williamson’s image has been very much about one man and his dog.
His soft-hearted furry companion Dipper has become a firm fixture at Rockwell Green.
Peter has been proud to oversee a raft of “amazing”
inspection reports in the last 18 months.
“Best performing school in the area,” said Peter. “It’s not about blowing our own trumpet, but celebrating that.”
As one colourful testament to the rapport Peter built with his pupils, he tells me of the time a former head boy-turned pilot did a surprise fly-past the school for Mr Williamson to see.
“His father rang me up and told me to stand in the middle of the playground at 2 o’clock on the dot, not a minute later, or I’ll miss it – and there he was!
“It was his passing out before becoming a fully-fledged pilot.”
Morwenna Dunstan, the school’s former deputy head, takes up Peter’s mantle come September.
She, along with the staff and governors, feel it’s very much the end of an era.
Chair of the governors, Samatha Rylatt, said: “It’s very sad to see him go. It’s been a pleasure to work with him. My own children come here – it’s a place where every child matters.
“They are given the chance to do the best and be as successful as they can.”
Peter’s now looking forward to driving around the farm on his trusty steeds in Highbridge – his horse Bertie Bassett, and his old grey Ferguson tractor.
“I’m riding off, literally!” he says, chuckling. “If not on my tractor, then on my horse.”