The Headmistress of St Swithun’s School in Winchester on her background and educational philosophy

What is your background?

I went to a state girls’ school, and this was followed by reading French and Spanish at Cambridge University, and lots of netball, athletics, cross county and football. After graduating I flirted with accountancy before taking up a teaching role. Initially, I was at Lord Wandsworth, followed by Oakham, Queenswood and City of London Girls’ – and now my role here at St Swithun’s.

What excites you most about your role at St Swithun’s?

First, I love having the opportunity every day to combat the stereotypical nonsense about girls and women that is still so prevalent even – or perhaps especially – in 2023. Everything we do aims to give our students the opportunity to develop interests and personal characteristics to reflect their unique character rather than some outdated notion about how women should think and behave. Secondly, I love seeing young people emerge from their chrysalis to become butterflies.

What is your academic philosophy?

Most importantly it’s: everybody can. By that I mean that with the right structure in place and the right attitude, everybody can improve. Secondly, it’s important to understand that things will always go wrong at some stage, whether in the classroom or elsewhere, and we simply need to learn from this. After all, there would be no point in coming to school if we could already do everything perfectly.

Can you tell us about one pivotal moment in your career?

When I was unsuccessful in my first headship application, I received the feedback that I spoke so fast in the interview that some of the governors had trouble understanding – useful feedback that I try to remember to this day. Similarly, I was unsuccessful in an application for deputy head, but went on to get a far better role at a school to which I was more suited. That ‘failure’ led directly to my current role.

Our Positive Education programme encourages students to use their best qualities to deal with their worst moments. We don’t sugar-coat life, but we teach students to laugh their troubles away”

What is St Swithun’s School’s approach and what sets it apart?

As an accredited High Performance Learning school, we are serious about education and committed to the belief that all students can make improvements, but we proceed with a lightness of touch. We certainly have rules, but we break them if we need to because we are guided by the needs of individuals. We have created our bespoke Positive Education programme to encourage students to use their best qualities to deal with their worst moments. We don’t sugar-coat life, but we teach students to laugh their troubles away. We embrace eccentricity and we encourage people to be who they want to be – in all their glory.

What makes a great student?

A great student keeps asking why? They are never complacent about their knowledge. They are open to advice and happy to take risks and learn from things that don’t work out first time. They understand the power of focused practice and they are kind to others. They laugh.

From your experience, what makes a great school environment?

It’s a place where students feel safe and are gently nudged to try new things, whether problem-solving, entrepreneurship, public-speaking, abseiling, fire-walking or stand-up comedy. A great school environment understands the importance of fun.

St Swithun’s School

Further reading: 60 Seconds with…Jody Wells, Head of Wells Cathedral Junior School