The Headmistress of Heathfield School, in Ascot, Berkshire, discusses her background and educational approach

What is your background?

I have come to Heathfield from Cranford House in Oxfordshire, where I was Senior Deputy Head. Prior to that, I was in leadership positions at St Helen and St Katharine, Abingdon. Academically, I have a First-Class Degree in Secondary Education from Brunel and an MA in Educational Leadership and Management. I have recently completed the Executive Leadership Programme at Saïd Business School, Oxford.  I also love my sport and sit on the GSA Sport and Wellness Committee as Vice Chair.

What excites you most about your new role at Heathfield School?

The sense of community and warmth of relationships is so evident – every pupil is known. Staff understand the character of the pupils, as well as their academic interests. The other thing that excites me is the clear commitment to innovation. For example, Heathfield is in the process of building a new Sixth Form Centre and has given pupils the opportunity to be involved by sharing their ideas and, in time, watching those ideas come to fruition. There’s a very collegiate approach, with the opportunity for pupils to be involved in so many things. It genuinely is their School.

60 seconds with Sarah Wilson | Headmistress of Heathfield
Sarah Wilson became Headmistress of Heathfield School in January 2021

How would you describe your educational philosophy?

It’s every pupil achieving the very best that they are able to achieve – which is often more than they think is possible. That achievement may be academic, sport, art, drama or something else they haven’t tried yet. Academic outcomes are so important, we know that, but they are influenced by many things both in and out of the classroom. Our role is to foster pupils’ positive attitude, their inner confidence and their curiosity. That also means we support them to make their own decisions, so that they are able to make good decisions as adults for their own and others’ lives. As teachers, we need to provide support and challenge for every pupil at the right time so they get the very most out of School.

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

When I was a Director of Sport I led a department that achieved significant culture change. In turn, this resulted in a huge increase in pupil participation, enjoyment and achievement. That really highlighted for me the transformational nature that education can have. It’s a sporting example, but you see the same when children achieve in any field. That feeling that you’ve really made a difference is always a pivotal moment.

Our role is to foster pupils’ positive attitude, their inner confidence and their curiosity. That also means we support them to make their own decisions”

How would you describe Heathfield’s approach and what sets it apart?

I would say it’s the attention and support of each child as an individual, with the School community at the heart of education. It’s an interesting balance when you can be known and celebrated as an individual but still be part of that community. There is an extraordinarily vibrant atmosphere – busy and purposeful – so that the pupils are inspired to work hard. They find their own path, and they have the space to do that here, but are also embedded within the community.  The sense of belonging really does underpin everything.

What makes a great student?

For me it’s all about attitude. You can achieve great things with curiosity, enthusiasm, kindness and by working hard.

What makes a great school environment?

It’s the culture. Getting that right is a combination of everything. From inspirational teachers and outstanding pastoral care, to diverse opportunities inside and outside the classroom and, of course, staff who go the extra mile. The right culture gives pupils the confidence to get involved and try new things outside their comfort zone. When children feel valued and happy, challenged and supported – and enjoying school life – that’s when they flourish and fly.

HEATHFIELD SCHOOL is a weekly, full-boarding and day school for girls aged 11-18 located in Ascot, Berkshire

Further reading: 60 seconds with Kathy Crewe-Read, Head of Bishop’s Stortford College