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Louise Higson: "We educate for confidence"

Q&A: Louise Higson

Headmistress of Farlington School, Louise Higson shares her views on school life, single sex education and the future's challenges

Posted by Stephanie Broad | April 11, 2016 | People, policy, politics

What was your favourite subject at school and why?

Mathematics – I had an inspirational teacher and I loved the fact that ultimately your answer is either right or wrong. It is logical and precise. 

What did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was five, I wanted to be a lollipop lady (the lollipop lady at my school always had sweets in her pocket!), by the time I was 15, I wanted to join the army. At 25, if I hadn’t gone into teaching I would have liked to have pursued a career in ophthalmology. I think ultimately, though, teaching was my true vocation.

What’s the best thing about being a Head?

It is a privilege to be Head at Farlington – I love my job and I know that I’m very lucky to be able to say that. It is an honour to work with young people and support them in achieving their goals and fulfilling their dreams. To see the girls mature and develop to become confident young women is one of the best parts of the role.

And the worst?

We all have bad days, but by nature I’m a very positive person – I look for the best in everything and never fail to see things as an opportunity. 

What’s the most unusual and the most popular extra-curricular activity?

Mandarin and Tai Chi are probably the most unusual. Our music lessons and team sporting activities are always popular. We organise a History of Art trip to Florence which gives the girls the opportunity to study with The British Institute of Florence.

Tell us something unexpected about the school.

The school was a refugee camp for Polish refugees after the war.

How important are academic results?

Academic results are extremely important because they give our girls choices. We want the girls to be educated as well as examined. In time they may forget how to do the differential calculus in their maths GCSE but that intellectual curiosity will stay with them for life. The girls leave Farlington as educated young women, equipped with the knowledge, skills and most importantly the self-belief to give things a go and shape their own future!

What is the school ethos, and how is it embodied in the pupils?

We educate for confidence. Each girl is unique; we foster her individuality. If she is happy, she succeeds, she flourishes. We are proudly and intentionally a small school where each girl is known and where each girl gets big opportunities. We are proud of our broad intake and the amount of value that we add. We do not believe in compartmentalised education; social, moral, physical, spiritual and cultural growth are not separate from what happens in the classroom. Farlington girls are listened to, inspired and understood as individuals. We believe in creative thinking and the true application of education. 

Louise with pupils at Farlington

How does the school meet the needs of those with educational difficulties such as dyslexia and any other special requirements?

Learning Support is offered to those pupils identified as having specific learning difficulties and varies according to individual need. In years seven and eight, support may take the form of individual or small group lessons. Girls in years nine to 11 may choose "Study Skills" as an option - these lessons give the opportunity for reinforcement of skills and consolidation of coursework as well as the skills to help with GCSE studies. 

What languages are taught?

In the Prep School, girls are introduced to French, Spanish and Latin. In the Senior School, Spanish, French and Latin are taught to all pupils in years seven and eight. German is offered in year nine and girls choose two or three languages of the four available at this key stage. In year 10 we add Italian to the mix.

Are there any unusual subjects taught or unexpected experiences offered?

Languages is taught in an innovative way here. Each classroom includes a small stage on which girls enjoy performing the foreign language sketches they create with their classmates.

What are the biggest challenges facing education at present?

One of the challenges is the change to the examination systems – especially introducing new GCSE and A-levels at the same time.  Perhaps a more logical approach of one following from the other might have been better.  Not all the new specifications are available yet – difficult to plan. The mixture of numbers and grades at GCSE will probably cause confusion until all subjects move to the numbers system. 

What is the value of single sex education?

In a single-sex school no subject is considered off limits, no position of responsibility unattainable. The girls are the front-runners – Head of School, Games Captain and Leader of the Orchestra. In the classroom they can take intellectual risks; ask questions and make judgements without worrying about what the boys will think. This ‘can-do’ philosophy instils in them the confidence to be themselves; it builds the resilience which will stand them in good stead as they go out into the world and make their mark on it.  

What does the boarding experience offer children?

The benefits of boarding are significant and long-lasting. Our boarders have the chance to grow into independent adults, able to cope with the ever-changing world, taking on more responsibility as they get older. They learn to do their best at everything – and not mind if they do not always succeed at the first attempt. The Boarding House is a place where the girls can mix with other students of similar ages, irrespective of race, religion, cultural and linguistic background, and where they are accepted for themselves. Above all, it is a place where happy memories are made!

How is family life changing and how does the school meet these changing requirements?

There are more and more families where both parents work. We offer extended day care: a breakfast club from 7.30am and relaxed after-school provision, so girls can relax, do their homework and be fed, and can be picked up at 5.45pm or 7pm. Flexi-boarding is also an option for working parents, so girls can board during the week.


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