2019 Autumn Term 2


  • A solid foundation
    Good schools are built on good teachers, but we face a severe shortage of teachers says Sam Sims, Research Fellow at UCL Institute of Education (IOE). Here, he explains the thinking around a new collaboration between ASCL and IOE to help with teachers' job satisfaction and retention. More
  • Getting educators on board
    Supporting another school or trust by joining its governing board offers a fantastic professional development opportunity for school leaders says Dominic Judge from Education and Employers. More
  • Smoke & mirrors?
    The long-awaited government spending round has been and gone, but what does it actually mean for your school? Is the government finally addressing the funding shortages in education, or just hiding behind a smokescreen? Here ASCL Funding Specialist, Julia Harnden, talks us through the detail. More
  • Change makers
    Gohar Khan, Director of Ethos at Didcot Girls' School in Oxford, shares her school's desire to create the next generation of female leaders. More
  • All in the mind
    Ruby Wax made her name as a writer and comedian but, in recent years, has become a vocal advocate for mental health and will give a keynote speech at ASCL's Annual Conference in 2020. She spoke to Julie Nightingale. More
  • Diverse thinking
    We need leaders and governors to reflect a society and a school population that is diverse and varied, and be all the richer for it says Geoff Barton. Here he highlights how we can all help to make that change. More
  • Our united vision
    This is the first in a new regular update in Leader to provide you with the latest information from our colleagues across the nation. ASCL is proud to represent school and college leaders from all over the UK. More
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Gohar Khan, Director of Ethos at Didcot Girls’ School in Oxford, shares her school’s desire to create the next generation of female leaders. 

Change Makers

Any teacher will testify to the joy felt when encountering a happy, successful and confident individual whom they once had the privilege of teaching. It is the ultimate validation of our daily work. At Didcot Girls’ School we are no different; the successful futures of our students are paramount to us and it is my belief that creating, feeding and sustaining a culture of ambition and leadership is the best way to prepare our girls to become the change-makers of the future. Our girls have a great deal to look forward to but there are also challenges: political uncertainty, an unknown job culture, the crisis concerning climate change. Considering this context, how do we prepare our girls to ‘Dream, Dare, Do’? 

Share a vision of leadership

We invite our young people to challenge traditional notions of leadership. They quickly develop an understanding of inclusive and nuanced leadership that attracts naturally assertive and confident individuals as much as quiet, reflective and sensitive leaders. When planning for leadership opportunities, our disadvantaged students are a priority for us and systematic tracking of their involvement in wider school life enables us to ensure they are consistently included. Our vision uses the idea of leading anywhere, anytime. John Maxwell’s 360 Leader is on the recommended reading list for our House Captain Book Club precisely because it encourages leadership, irrespective of background. Students understand that all effective leadership begins with leading ourselves with respect, dignity and ambition. This shared vision becomes our groundwork. 

Create opportunities from day one

How then, as a school of 1,450, do we realise our vision for young leadership? The answer lies partly in creating opportunities across the school to suit all leadership tastes. We start early. Our Year 7 students embark on our comprehensive Leadership Ladder straight away, from leading a starter in a lesson and being a guide on open evenings, to attending a lunchtime club regularly and presenting in assembly. Once bronze, silver and gold rewards are achieved they can move on to making a mark in the community by pursuing the platinum leadership badge. Their maroon blazers are emblazoned with leadership badges and form a dazzling display of their achievements. Sixth form student Imogen Young reflects on her experience of leadership at school and said, “I love how the school gave us guidance on developing our leadership right from Year 7; it enabled me to have a strong set of skills and values to build on later.”

In Years 10 and 11 a House Captain Team is appointed. This year we appointed our first ever associate head girl who manages student leaders and sustains powerful links with St Birinus School, the local all boys’ secondary within our trust, the Ridgeway Education Trust. Our large body of prefects are trained and managed by the head of Year 11 and perform a range of duties around the site. Ethos leaders are school ambassadors for conversations with parents, visitors and governors; they are trained in oracy skills and serve as an invaluable pupil voice. This year also saw the appointment of climate change leaders who are organising a Climate Change Summit across the trust and involving prominent specialist speakers. Our school council stays focused on school-related developments. This powerful diversity in roles is compounded by the ethnic and socio-economic diversity of the team, which makes their impact particularly powerful. We seize every opportunity to invite a full range of inspirational leaders as guest speakers to whet our girls’ appetite for ambition and success. BBC’s Mishal Husain and Baroness Susan Greenfield are two of the many inspiring women to have shared their remarkable journeys with us.

Values-based leadership

We deliver our student provision through a comprehensive set of leadership qualities and behaviours based on the philosophy of ‘servant leadership’. Our ‘Thoughts for the Term’ create a framework within which to reflect on each of these in depth and with sincerity. Last year, we began with ‘vision’ and moved to ‘self-worth’, ‘gratitude’, ‘curiosity’, ‘compassion’, ‘wellbeing’ and ‘failure’. Discussing failure openly proved particularly powerful, and staff sharing their own stories of failure offered empowering lessons in leadership. For Abi Fostekew, a current House Captain, it meant a remarkable transformation.

She said, “I always lacked the confidence to speak to groups or even just my friends. The opportunity to work through this allowed me to share and pass on my enthusiasm for something I’m passionate about to younger members of the school.” When compounded with a growthmindset culture this ‘invitation’ to fail can be very liberating.

House Championships

An energetic and robust house system is perhaps the most enjoyable way to promote good leadership among our girls. In addition to promoting healthy competition, drive, creativity and innovation, the house system is also a wonderful way to ensure student wellbeing.

The centrepiece of this system is the ‘House Championships’ – our seven houses (all named after inspirational leading women) plan and deliver large-scale and eclectic events throughout the year. Whether it is the House Shout, the Talent Show, the Inter-House Debating Competition or The DGS Chase, our young people get to organise and participate before they leave us. The House Championships enable us to make our leadership provision even more diverse; the combination of academic and non-academic events on offer mean that a full range of students get involved. 

The future

We’re certainly not complacent about our provision; indeed, part of the joy is to keep pondering the next move. For us there our three things on the horizon: 

  1. Enhance the student voice to ensure that young people are vital stakeholders in their own school, as well as national and global communities. 
  2. Enhance diversity in all forms within our leadership teams. 
  3. Spearhead work on promoting girls as inventors and creators. 

Our journey so far suggests that everything is within reach and our ultimate hope is to see our girls lead with conviction and empathy. Associate Head Girl Izzy Langley summed it up perfectly when she said, “I’ve learnt that leadership is about creating change – striving to achieve positives outcomes and making a difference. I have a new role at Didcot Girls’ School and I plan to fill every moment of it motivating other students to step up and dream big.”

Dr Gohar Khan
Director of Ethos at Didcot Girls’ School, part of the Ridgeway Education Trust