After completing her BA and MA degrees, Niamh Green took a job in PR in London. While she enjoyed the fancy lunches, she did not enjoy ringing up journalists and urging them to write about the photocopier company she was promoting.
And while her photocopier did end up starring in a Telegraph article, she decided PR wasn’t for her. A PGCE at Cambridge then kickstarted what has become a 20-year career in girls’ education.
When she started out, she had no experience of the English education system, as she was born in Ireland and educated at the European School in Luxembourg. She describes it as “a concrete block” with no uniforms for students – quite different from the majority of UK girls’ schools.
“I can sell girls’ education because I believe in it.”
Nonetheless, her career has now taken her to one of the most high-profile roles in the country – head of Roedean School in Brighton.
Previously she held roles at Woldingham, Sherborne Girls, Godolphin and most recently she was senior deputy and acting head at Mayfield School in East Sussex.
Green, who started at Roedean this spring, says: “I can sell girls’ education because I believe in it, and, I suppose, maybe if I’d gone into PR promoting something I did believe in, it might have been a completely different story.”
Teaching though, at girls’ boarding schools specifically, has proved to be the right career choice.
“It’s a real privilege to be the leader in an organisation like a girls’ school.”
But what drew her to Roedean, the almost mythical cliff-top establishment with nothing between it and the northern coast of France?
She says: “As deputy head you always ask ‘Do I want the next step? Is that something I want to do?’
“When I became acting head at Mayfield, I realised it was definitely something I wanted to do…it’s a real privilege to be the leader in an organisation like a girls’ school.
“When I came to visit Roedean it was an amazing setting, beautiful location. I felt it was the right fit, both with the staff but really with the girls as well.”
“The challenge in a bigger school is making sure it’s still all about the individual.”
She is joining Roedean after the 10-year headship of Oliver Blond, who expanded day places and doubled the number of students to 700.
This, says Green, has led to the school being far more part of the local Brighton community.
“It’s really changed a lot over the last 10 years and that’s where it gets its buzz,” she says.
“It wasn’t just the school on a cliff, he’s really brought it into the local community which I think is really important. There are a lot more day girls now, but the boarders have also got involved more too.”
And it is the size of the school that is one of the challenges for the new head.
“There are over 700 girls as well as staff, parents, the whole community and I’m getting to know them all as individuals, rather than as a collective. This term is really about soaking up everything that’s happening. The challenge in a bigger school is making sure it’s still all about the individual.”
In terms of plans for the school, Green wants to focus on ensuring that not only do girls get an excellent academic education, they are “career ready” when they leave.
“We can’t be resting on our laurels as the world is constantly evolving,” she says, insisting that the curriculum needs to be up-to-date and relevant.
“It’s also the co-curricular, offering them the opportunities to develop,” she says, citing schemes such as Young Enterprise.
“I’d love to say I’d rowed the Atlantic or climbed Kilimanjaro.”
But what are Green’s concerns about the UK education system more generally? Like many heads, she sees national exam reform as the biggest question on the cards, and asks whether our exam-heavy system is necessarily the “best way forward” long-term.
We have to ask, she says, what pupils are actually getting out of the current system. Green sees how exams can be motivating for many and provide the hurdles young people need to improve – and has no plans to ditch GCSEs and A-levels at Roedean.
But the head, who has a daughter sitting GCSEs and a son sitting A-levels, adds: “With the Covid years when they didn’t do exams, have they suffered? It’s looking at that system, it’s not going to change overnight, but it’s something it would be really good to focus on.”
Aside from girls’ education and headship, what are Green’s interests and passions? Time for hobbies is scarce at the moment, she says.
“I’d love to say I’d rowed the Atlantic or climbed Kilimanjaro but I suppose my time, being in boarding, is devoted to either school or family.”
She loves travelling and is a French specialist so tries to get to France as often as possible.
But it’s clear that learning is one of Green’s main passions. A French and history graduate from University College Dublin, she has an MA in international relations from Sussex University and a PGCE in French with German from Cambridge University. She also completed an MBA in educational leadership from UCL in 2015.
“It’s good to do things you are not so good at – I try and run – I don’t think successfully.”
She says: “I love that idea of continuing to learn and I think that’s really good for the students to see as staff that we are continuing to improve and educate ourselves.
“But also to do things you are not so good at, I try and run – I don’t think I run successfully – I don’t really enjoy it.
“It’s not always about being the best at things but participation and enjoying it – role modelling in failure as well as in success.”