Rachel Dent first joined The Abbey School in 2006 as director of sixth form, before being promoted to first deputy head in 2011. She has previously held roles at Wisbech Grammar School, in Cambridgeshire, and Cokethorpe School, in Oxfordshire, as well a teacher of English in Alexandria, Egypt.
Who/what inspired you to become a teacher?
Having studied English Literature at university and having a passion for creative expression through drama and poetry, I suppose my becoming a teacher was less of a surprise to others than it was to me. I was travelling in Egypt with my future husband when the opportunity arose to teach in a local school. After the first week I was utterly hooked – teaching ‘Pride and Prejudice’ to a gang of children whose own cultural experiences were about as far from Mrs Bennett’s drawing room as you could imagine was the kind of challenge I found absolutely compelling.
My inspiration for the kind of teacher I wanted to be was heavily influenced by my own experience of a Convent education which, whilst thorough, was not warm. I am a great believer in teachers being approachable and enthusiastic, with a genuine interest in their students. We are so fortunate to have teachers who are passionate about their subjects and driven to share their knowledge with our girls. That passion is one of the first things I look for in a teacher – whether they’ve just qualified or have decades of experience – do they have that fire for their subject and for initiating others into it?
What achievement are you most proud of as Head?
I am proud and humbled on a daily basis by the strength of community at The Abbey, from the youngest girl in Nursery to our longest-serving staff member and our wonderful Alumnae. As custodian of this community that has existed for almost 130 years I feel proud that together we continue to build something that is valued by every member and that provides a lifelong network of friendship and support. The power of this community shone through in the ISI inspection that took place in my first term as Head, and I am proud of the way in which everyone pulled together to deliver our “exceptional” teaching and learning rating, with excellent in every other category.
What does a successful school look like to you?
A successful school is outward-looking, comfortable in its own skin and fun to be part of. It celebrates achievement in all its forms and applauds individuality, while also offering a sense of belonging that derives from having a strong ethos and community spirit. A successful school prepares its pupils to live happy and fulfilling lives that have a positive impact on society. It recognises that our children will live in a fast-paced, ever-changing world and equips students with the resilience and flexibility to thrive in that environment. This means giving them the tools to deal with setbacks, disagreements and being outside of their comfort zones, so that they can respond positively to challenges.
I believe that a successful school gives every pupil a voice and the confidence to use it – something I see from the very first Nursery assembly where parents are frequently astonished by the way in which their three year old daughter has developed in a few short weeks since starting the school.
Finally, a successful school is recognised by its pupils for the difference it has made in their lives – school is not just somewhere that you go each day, it’s something that you’re a part of and that is part of you.
What is the most important quality you want every child to have when they leave your school? And why?
It comes down to two qualities: to be honest and kind. You cannot go far wrong in life with these. Of course, being completely honest is not always kind, while sometimes it is better to be honest than it is to be kind, so I also hope that our girls have the sensitivity and intelligence to know the difference!
Please give 5 words to describe the ethos of your school.
I can do it in three: inspiration, aspiration and balance.
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