Q&A: Kathryn Gorman

The head of Abbot’s Hill School in Hemel Hempstead says the school is “simmering with potential”

What has your experience as head of Abbot’s Hill been like so far?

Starting in January 2020 means that much of my time has been taken up with the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Within six weeks of my starting date, I was planning for the first lockdown and building a virtual school. 

However, throughout the past 18 months I would say that my experience has shown me in glorious technicolour the power of community, collaboration and how important it is to think creatively. It’s been a test of our resilience but the whole school has united superbly behind a common goal: to do the very best that we can for the pupils. We have definitely emerged stronger and with a clearer sense of who we are and what we are capable of.

What’s the best and worst thing about being a head?

The best thing for me is supporting staff to achieve a goal or to succeed at something and then seeing the positive impact that has on the pupils or on their colleagues or the wider community. 

The worst thing is, I suppose, the sense of ultimate responsibility. It is a privilege but certainly through this pandemic time, it has been a weighty one. Making sure I put clear boundaries between work and home is hard but has to be done; I have two young children (and a crazy springer spaniel) who keep my feet on the ground.

What was it about Abbot’s Hill that made you take the job?

The sense of possibility. It is a school simmering with potential and I want to tell its story. It deserves to be highly regarded and widely known rather than being somewhat secretive and hidden away.

What was your favourite subject at school?

I’m an English teacher so you would expect me to say English – and I did love everything about it – however, I really, really enjoyed maths. I wasn’t the best, but I enjoyed untangling the logic and the playfulness of it. 

At university I branched out into areas of language that are to do with logic and reasoning, and there was a real cross over with mathematics and philosophy. Post-university I moved to Japan and learnt the language in situ. I realised that learning a language enabled me to combine my love of culture and art with the dexterity of mastering an entirely new system (alphabet and all) of communication.

What are you currently reading?

I am reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel, Klara and the Sun. I love all of Ishiguro’s works. He describes humanity with a painterly quality and renders the fragility of the human condition in such beautiful detail. Every time he writes I feel like he helps me to better understand human nature.

What issue in education are you most passionate about?

Post-Covid we have to rethink what it is that education means for our young people. People talk about 21st-century skills but we are now well into the 21st century and still teaching in the same way.

I’m not interested in taking sides in the debate around skills vs knowledge. Instead, I think we have the most fabulous opportunity to deploy the best educational and industry research to ensure that young people really are well-equipped to navigate what is a rapidly changing world – I have been saying this for some time. As a head, I feel incredibly lucky to be in a school which has an appetite to seize this opportunity. It’s an exciting place to be.

If you weren’t in education what would you do instead?

I very nearly pursued a career in law after university. I had a yearning to work in human rights, possibly within the international development sphere. I am still highly motivated to ensure fairness and equality of access. These values matter greatly to me. 

The other direction came to me only later on, and that is interior design. I tend to seek out beautiful things – colours or views or pieces of art – and I think in a highly visual way. Someone I worked with once pointed out to me that my love of design and creativity, coupled with this strong sense of justice is what has led me to be a head. Certainly, I am most motivated by wanting to ‘design’ a coherent school which enables all those connected with it to benefit.

Now that Covid restrictions are relaxing, what aspect of school life are you most looking forward to returning?

The interaction between year groups – that has been so missed. After that, the interaction between the school and its wider community of parents and local schools. 


Kathryn has a degree in English from the University of Birmingham and a MEd in educational leadership from the University of Cambridge. She has taught in Japan, worked in the voluntary sector, and taught in Yorkshire and the East End of London.

Twitter: @GormanKathryn

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