Q and A: Convent of Jesus and Mary Language College headteacher Louise McGowan

Convent of Jesus and Mary Language College headteacher Louise McGowan.

Convent of Jesus and Mary Language College headteacher Louise McGowan. - Credit: Archant

Louise McGowan, who started as headmistress of Convent of Jesus and Mary Language College in September, speaks to education editor James Scott about life at the school.

What has struck you most about life at the school?

There is such a sense of ambition. Children here are really serious about their learning and have high hopes for their future. We have students who are very academic and will be attending top universities. In my experience, some of the students at provincial schools don’t have that burning ambition that I have experienced here. I have been welcomed so warmly by the staff, the girls and parents. They are all very curious and are asking me lots of questions. They are inquisitive and want to know about you, which I love. It is almost like they hang on your every word. We are first and foremost a Catholic school, but we embrace everyone. We want children of every faith or no faith to come here, because we think we offer something really special. It is a lovely feeling to be part of the family and I see the girls as an extension of my own children.

What type of headmistress are you?

I like being a high profile head – I don’t want to be stuck in this office. I have to be out there with my sleeves rolled up. I love teaching – that’s what I was born to do. I am determined to do my bit by teaching on Wednesday afternoons. It is also important that you are seen as the lead teacher at the school. Anyone can come into my classroom and see what I’m doing. The headteacher has such a power to dictate the mood of the day. If I worked through the gates in the morning with a face as miserable as thunder or I went around barking at everyone you could guarantee the whole mood of the school would sink. But if you come in with a big smile on your face and with energy then the impact is equally amazing. It is also important to be a human being. Girls, in particular, need positive female role models. I worry for girls today about the negative messages out there, for instance on television with images that are being portrayed. The best way of protecting young girls is by education – by working hard and not accepting second best.

What makes the students here unique as a group?

Their kind hearts – they are lovely, kind young girls and young women. The girls feel a warmth and kindness from the teachers. For children, especially today, I can’t think of anything more important to give them than a good foundation and the chance to bring up their self-esteem, knowing that they are safe, supported and loved when they come to school. We give them the foundation to be wonderful people in the next generation.

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What are your main ambitions as headmistress?

I want the school to be a school where everybody wants their daughter to go to. I want the reputation of this school to be sky high and I’m determined it will be. I don’t care about Ofsted. I have respect for Ofsted as a body that validates that school is doing what it is doing, but I worry about schools that just run themselves for Ofsted is that they are forgetting what their moral purpose is. Education is about the whole child. This is a good school and we have been validated as such. Yes, we do want to be seen as amazing, but it’s not my sole purpose. I want parents to choose this school because of the fantastically well-rounded education that the girls will get here and the type of person they will come out as.

What have your proudest moments been so far?

Taking the girls down to the first day of mass at the school church on the first day of term. The whole school walking through the streets of Willesden and Harlesden in a line and perfectly behaved. I love it. People are really friendly and there is a real sense of community here.