Tell us about your background
I grew up in Accrington and went St Mary’s College in Blackburn for Sixth Form. It was a huge school, but there were plenty of opportunities to get involved with activities and be seen as an individual; I particularly enjoyed playing football and being involved with debating. I remember a particularly supportive history teacher, Mr Lamb.
I’d always liked the idea of going to somewhere like Oxford, but I didn’t really understand how it might work. My parents were very supportive but hadn’t been to university themselves. Then, one day I was in the careers office and totally by happenstance I saw a flyer for the Sutton Trust. So, in 2004 I went to Oxford to Pembroke College for a history summer school.
What was your experience with the Sutton Trust like?
It was incredibly eye-opening – particularly being independent and with like-minded people. It truly was a wonderful week, particularly the chance to present on the research that we had undertaken at the History Faculty across the week. The chance to immerse myself in History with people who were equally as passionate really helped to confirm this being the right degree path for me. The staff at Pembroke really helped us to understand the nuts and bolts of filling in university applications and to appreciate what going to university would look and feel like, which meant a great deal to those of us who were still nervous at the prospect. I’m still in touch with lots of the people from this summer school, and it was a real privilege to have had the chance to meet Sir Peter Lampl during the week.
What happened afterwards?
I ended up getting a place to study history at Keble College at Oxford and my university experience was fantastic. I got lots out of Keble – I was the JCR President and served with the student union, focusing on access and academic affairs. I’m indebted to one of my senior tutors called Dr Ian Archer, who highlighted the importance for all of us to seek to serve beyond the communities we were such a strong a part of.
Following my time at Keble and sabbatical year I undertook my PGCE and have been teaching ever since. I really enjoy teaching. It’s amazing to think about all the students I’ve had the privilege to have known and taught, and to constantly reflect on my own experience at school and know the difference a good teacher can make. Some of my earliest students get in touch now to tell me what they are up to. It’s very rewarding.
In 2015 I was elected President of Council for an organisation called the Chartered College of Teaching, a new organisation that aims to be the leading professional body for teachers. I’m also a founding trustee. That role is probably the highlight of my career so far – they have the Royal Charter and it’s a privilege to be part of it, trying to draw people together and ensuring that teachers are the ones to set the standards for our profession. I am also incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to take up my own headship in September of this year, at Redmaids’ High School in Bristol. I’m looking forward to working with all members of the RHS community to create new highlights for us all in the years ahead.
What’s your advice for students thinking of applying?
I think the main advice I have for any young person is to really think about what you are passionate about – it might be broad like history, or something very specific. Then, as much as you can, try to block out the noise around decision making. It is sometimes easy to be drawn into making applications based on a perception of a degree created by those around you, or on what you think might be the end result when it comes to careers. Knowing the wide variety of careers that friends of mine have undertaken, with a diverse range of degrees behind them, I feel that we expect students to look too far ahead when making their applications. You should focus on what you care about and what you are passionate about first and foremost; three or more years is a long time to study for something you don’t particularly enjoy!