In Conversation With...

Issue 97

Michelle Hill - Headmistress, Durham High School for Girls

Leading girls’ school, Durham High School, has appointed Michelle Hill as its new Headmistress. As a mother of two girls and a Biology teacher with 25 years’ experience in the education sector, she talks about the benefits of a single sex environment and the key piece of advice she gives to all her girls.

Congratulations on your appointment. Can you tell us about Durham High School?

Durham High School is an all-through school, educating girls from Nursery through to Sixth Form , and we’re proud to be one of the first schools in the North East to take girls’ education seriously. Durham High School is now in its 140th year, with an impeccable track record of excellence, and it’s a privilege to be appointed Headmistress. When I first stepped through the door it felt like home; there’s a real buzz of energy and passion among the girls and the close relationships they build with their teachers are exceptionally special. I stand back and think: ‘Wow! If only this could be bottled.”

Can you expand on your role as Headmistress?

My overarching role is to develop and lead the strategic direction, vision and values of the school while ensuring that I’m accessible and approachable to parents, pupils and staff alike. As a mum, I fully understand the needs of parents and I set the bar high. I expect exceptional levels of teaching and outstanding pastoral care to ensure every girl here is known, understood, valued, nurtured and supported. Durham High School’s motto ‘Be Your Best’ embodies everything I want for the girls and there are no limits placed on their learning or aspirations.

What excites you about working in an all-girls environment?

The breaking down of stereotypes…In fact, stereotypes don’t exist here, and I love that! No subjects are assigned a gender, and no subjects are off limits. All our scientists, mathematicians and budding engineers are girls and there’s no ceiling on their dreams. They’re driven to succeed, and we do our very best to help get them there. There are many STEM trailblazers in the school and as a specialist Science teacher that excites me!

Can you give a potted history of your 25-year career in education?

I specialise in Biology and have worked in state secondary schools for much of my career. In 2005 I became an Advanced Skills Teacher, raising achievements in Science across the Middlesbrough authority, and went on to work in the Extended Leadership Team at Redcar before being appointed in 2013 as an Assistant Headteacher. My move to Durham High came in 2021 when I was appointed Deputy Head (Pastoral) to lead safeguarding and support the pastoral needs of the girls. I became Vice Principal (3-18) in 2022 and, after a period as Acting Principal this year, was appointed as Headmistress.

How did your experience as a pupil at an all-girls school support your move from co-educational teaching to the single sex environment at Durham High?

It’s proven invaluable to have that firsthand experience and recognise just how special an all-girls learning environment really is, not only for academic achievement but for nurturing and empowering confident and ambitious females who are fully prepared to grasp opportunities and thrive in today’s world. At Greenlands, I was taught to be the very best version of myself possible, and that same sense of belonging and purpose exists at Durham High.

Who inspired you to become a teacher?

I attended Greenlands High School for Girls, in Blackpool, and was taught Biology by an incredible woman, Miss Gaffney. Like her, I wanted to make a difference to young people’s lives through teaching and she gave me the encouragement and confidence I needed to realise my potential.

What do you love most about your job?

How busy and different every day can be…for me and for the pupils! Academia is undoubtedly important, but outside of the classrooms the days are filled with sport, music, drama, and a whole myriad of extra-curricular activities from rock climbing and rowing to chess club and rock band. I’ve particularly loved working closely with the Sixth Form Prefect Team, who are great role models for our younger girls. Being part of a vibrant environment is so inspiring.

How do you find time to unwind away from work?

I try to heed the advice I give the girls…that life is all about balance. I find that harmony by spending time with my family and visiting new places. I also have a passion for learning and I’m currently completing a MA in Education Leadership.

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