After leaving Oxford University, Marina Gardiner Legge was turned down for a graduate level job and had to make do with a secretarial post at a brand management agency.
But being a plucky English graduate of the all-women Somerville College, she pushed for an interview for a higher level job – and got it. Within a couple of years, she found herself managing the merchandising for Blockbuster – the iconic video store – across the USA.
“I was in charge of all the signage and promotions in a huge number of stores, says Gardiner Legge, “I had to decide what was done, make sure it was printed, and that it got to the stores on time. It was really good for me.”
Her career has taken her in many twists and turns since then – and Blockbuster is sadly consigned to history* – but her determination and ability to feel undaunted by life’s challenges – and a tight printing schedule – has never left her.
“ ‘That was a year,’ she says, recalling her first three novice terms in the classroom.”
After working in branding, Gardiner Legge managed a charity in France, then moved to Hong Kong with her family, where she gained her PGCE. She eventually returned to England where she started her teaching career at Rutlish School, a former grammar school for boys in London.
“That was a year,” she says, recalling her first three demanding novice terms in the classroom. She stayed at Rutlish for 10 years before joining the all-girls Heathfield School in Ascot, where she was head for over four years.
Just as Covid hit, she took the headship at Oxford High School, GDST.
She says: “It is a school of extraordinary women, extraordinary alumnae…This is the place where future Nobel prize winners, future politicians, future changemakers, they were educated here 30 years ago and they are being educated here at the moment.
“And I just thought unleashing those voices within the school, for the good of the future would be an amazing opportunity.”
She is “passionate about women”, she says, and “a complete feminist”. This has been informed by her own education at an all-girls boarding and raising three daughters herself.
She says: “I’ve been blown away by the extraordinary power of our students. They have extraordinary views, they feel passionately about things, and they want the school to be a place where they can practise raising those voices, experimenting, leading.
“When they hit university and they go out into the world they will feel ready for opportunities rather than feel daunted by them.”
“I’ve been blown away by the extraordinary power of our students.”
But while Gardiner Legge has high expectations of her students – based on past performance of OHS girls – she is keen not to “trammel” them, and the burden isn’t on them to solve the world’s problems – unless they want to.
She says: “I have three daughters who have all done completely different things so what I want for young people particularly after the mental health crisis is I really want them to be confident and true to themselves.
“Of course I’d love them to help solve climate change, I know former students from OHS who were involved with the vaccine, one of our students helped oversee the signing of the Brexit agreement on Christmas eve.
“I don’t know the path they’re going to follow but I want them to be fulfilled and give back to the world around them.”
She says it is a “moral imperative” for those who have benefited from an outstanding education to do this in some way.
“I don’t know the path they’re going to follow but I want them to be fulfilled and give back to the world.”
Meanwhile, Gardiner Legge has a number of projects and plans at the school. This year, she will teach a course in “social discourse” to all Year 7 students, designed to prepare them to engage effectively in debate by listening, evaluating, and expressing agreement or disagreement.
“When they get their first phone in Year 7, it’s important they develop their critical evaluative instincts,” she says.
Gardiner Legge is also keen that students understand the difference between online gestures and actually doing something to support a cause or solve a problem.
Clicking “like” is not the same as being proactive about an issue, she says. “The idea of changing your profile to be sympathetic with a different group, that doesn’t do anything.
“It’s important to give young people the efficacy to understand that their voices matter and their actions contribute to making the world a better place, and that’s a central part to a really great school,” says the head.
“There’s been an exodus of senior leaders both in the state and the independent sectors.”
Elsewhere, Gardiner Legge is the president elect of the Girls’ Schools Association and will take over from the incumbent Heather Hanbury next September.
In that role, she is keen to promote school leadership as a career option: “There’s been an exodus of senior leaders both in the state sector and the independent sector. Headteachers are not just leaving for retirement but leaving early to do something because else they’ve had enough because it has been so difficult.
“Part of what I want to do is really to rejuvenate, replenish and inspire and recognise the achievements of heads.”
She says she sympathises with state sector colleagues at the moment, who have been asked to give teachers a 5 per cent pay rise with no extra funding for it.
“There’s a crisis coming in terms of school leadership,” she says.
But, she says, there has to be a “celebration” of the role.
“People talk about it being the best job in the world – it is the best job in the world. Receiving emails from pupils, getting a student stop you in the corridor telling you about their latest achievement and how proud they are.
“It’s a real privilege I think…I felt that even in those dark dusky mornings in lockdown when all you’re doing is getting up and working on a screen.”
You don’t get that working for Blockbuster video, surely?
*One Blockbuster franchise remains in Bend, Oregon.