Future leaders

June 23, 2017

The headmistress of Durham High School for Girls, Lynne Renwick, talks to Alison Cowie about the ways she and the team at the independent school are helping to create the next generation of leaders through three key areas

Lynne Renwick, has been a teacher for 34 years and has always recognised her role as shaping future leaders.

“Throughout my career, I’ve always had an expectation that the young people I’ve been teaching would be the next generation of leaders – whatever their ability,” she says.

Apart from a year working for Barclays Bank, Lynne has dedicated herself to education and has worked in schools in Yorkshire, Oxfordshire and Lima, Peru – where she spent two years at a British International School.

Between 2004 and 2012, Lynne was headmistress of Our Lady’s Abingdon School in Oxfordshire, and then moved north to become head of Durham High School for Girls, a Church of England Foundation independent school that provides education for girls aged three to 18 years old.

Having taught in both co-ed and girls-only schools, Lynne doesn’t believe there are differences in how boys and girls are moulded into future leaders.

“It depends on the person, not their gender,” the headmistress insists.

Lynne sees team work, integrity, understanding and compassion as key traits of leadership. These, she says, are ingrained in pupils at Durham High School for Girls via three routes: the curriculum, extra-curricular activities and through the school’s spiritual and pastoral care.

Within the curriculum, the high standard of teaching set by the school is aimed to develop a passion for life-long learning.

“We want our girls to excel and to fulfil their academic potential but also to take pleasure in learning and continue on this journey throughout their lives,” Lynne explains.

The school also regularly sets academic challenges and hosts Olympiads where the brightest pupils can work together on high-level maths, biology and chemistry problems.

On the extra-curricular front, the school delivers an extensive programme of sport, music and drama to help develop commitment and team-building skills.

A variety of sporting activities are available, from traditional team sports, such as netball and hockey, to trampolining and Zumba classes.

Lynne reports that several pupils are excelling in individual sports, too. Last summer, Durham High School for Girls’ pupil Amy Tinkler won a bronze medal in gymnastics at the Rio Olympics. At 16, she was the youngest member of Team GB.

Lynne adds: “We believe that physical fitness is important for mental fitness too and encourage all of our girls to stay fit and healthy.”

In addition, the school also encourages pupils to develop a cultural appreciation. It hosts an annual performance at Durham’s Gala Theatre, while access to music lessons, choirs and orchestras encourage new skills and team work.

Another extra-curricular activity that the school has grown in recent years, Lynn reports, is debating.

The school now has a debating club called Symposium, where pupils gather to discuss everything from current affairs to social issues.

The club also regularly hosts English Public Speaking Competition events.

Lynne reflects: “If girls are going to be leaders, in whatever field that might be, they have to feel confident that they can take an argument, look at both sides and weigh up the pros and cons. We feel that’s a very important skill for the them to develop.”

Recent debates have included the merits of Brexit, whether schools should have uniforms, the impact of artificial intelligence, and the power of social media. The club also recreated a mock referendum last year and plans a mock General Election soon.

The school is involved – and has won numerous accolades – in national enterprise schemes such as Future Business Magnates, a Business Durham initiative that all Year 8 pupils participate in, and Young Enterprise, where the girls get to develop and run their own businesses.

“The girls have to motivate each other and make sure everyone is pulling their weight,” Lynne says. “A managing director and a secretary are appointed to lead the team, who work on all aspects of business, from product development to marketing.”

In the spiritual guidance provided by the school – often reinforced through daily assemblies – Lynn feels this helps with some of the softer skills of leadership.

“We want our girls to have moral fibre and have loyalty, honesty and integrity. These skills will help them in later life,” she says.

Durham High School for Girls also runs a school council where representatives from each year group meet and discuss the running of the school.

“The council has made changes to our school menus, has chosen the colour scheme in our refurbished dining hall and, most recently, encouraged us to build an Astroturf hockey pitch, so that our schools teams can remain competitive,” says Lynne.

The independent school upholds the traditional practice of having a head girl, as well as three deputy head girls and a team of prefects.

“The election of this leadership team is very rigorous,” says Lynne.  Girls have to write a letter of application, be interviewed by myself, the deputy head and the head of sixth form, and give a two-minute presentation to rest of the school about why voters should vote for them.”

The school is divided into four different houses too, which Lynn believes instils a sense of loyalty and pride while providing the opportunity for girls of different ages to work together.

More recently, the school has adopted a peer mentoring scheme and a buddy system – where Year 10 pupils are paired with Year 7 pupils to help them settle into senior school.

Sixth form pupils can also work in the school’s nursery after their school day finishes.

Durham High School for Girls also regularly invites former pupils to return to the school to speak.

“We have former pupils working in just about every sector and industry imaginable and it’s important for our girls to hear their experiences,” says Lynne.

By interweaving leadership training into the curriculum, extra-curricular activities and the pastoral care, Lynn is confident that Durham High School for Girls succeeds in preparing its pupils for leadership roles.

“We have a strong belief that every girl has a talent,” Lynne reveals. “She might not know exactly what that is and our job is to develop it.

“By encouraging this talent and equipping her with the requisite skills and confidence, all pupils can show leadership in whatever they choose to do in the future.”

Durham High School for Girls