Interview: Helen Jeys, Manchester High School for Girls

Helen Jeys, headmistress of Manchester High School for Girls, is inspired by the school’s “pioneering history”

What has your experience been like so far at Manchester High School for Girls?

Taking over as the new head during the current pandemic was never going to be easy. However, I am incredibly fortunate to be leading a school with a fantastic staff and student body, and I continue to feel extremely privileged to be working at Manchester High School for Girls (MHSG).

I am, like everyone else around the country, really excited for the time when we can resume some kind of normality in school.

What’s the best and worst thing about being a head?

The best thing is knowing that decisions you make can have a huge impact on the holistic development of young people. Empowering young people to have the confidence they need to know that they can succeed is a real privilege and the decisions you make as a head are crucial to this.

The worst thing is the inevitability that one cannot have as much contact with pupils as one would want. I love my subject and will always miss not being able to teach as much as I would like.

What was it about MHSG that made you take the job?

MHSG has a pioneering history; it was the first school in the north of England to have, as its primary aim, the vision of providing an academic education to girls. This makes the school an incredibly exciting place to work; our pupils know that they have the ability and opportunity to achieve, to change their own future and that of those around them.

However, right at the heart of everything we do is the girls’ wellbeing and this is reflected in everything we do in school. As a result, leading the school is an absolute joy and, therefore, being offered the position has been the highlight of my career to date.

What was your favourite subject at school?

My favourite subject at school was religion and philosophy. I am fascinated by culture, history and big questions!

What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading Barack Obama’s A Promised Land. Obama’s journey to becoming the 44th US president is fascinating reading; he is a beautiful writer and reading his story is a constant reminder of the hugely important landmark his presidency signified.

Helen Jeys talked to IE in December about staff wellbeing and the importance of children being in school

What issue in education are you most passionate about?

I am passionate about wellbeing and the proactive pastoral support of students. This has always been my focus, sustained by my interest in Aristotelian approaches to education.

It was heartening to read in an article recently that the wellbeing of children is now the most important consideration when parents are making decisions about which school they should choose. Indeed, our philosophy at MHSG is that if a child is happy, they will flourish.

As educators, we have a moral duty to do what we can to provide an education which encourages balance and fun as well as academic excellence.

If you weren’t in education, what would you do instead?

I would probably be a lawyer. I endeavour, where possible, to help and – in certain situations – to defend. I think that there is a skill overlap between the two professions.

What’s your advice for other heads during the pandemic?

The most important advice is to keep going – you can’t do any more than you are doing. Resilience, tenacity, perseverance and grit – the qualities that we want for our young people – are right at the heart of what we need as heads at the moment.

I also think that, just as we are working hard to support the wellbeing of our staff, we need to take time for ourselves to ensure that we can tackle each week with the enthusiasm needed to respond and to react to the daily or hourly challenges we face. It is, after all, the most amazing role and we are fortunate and privileged to hold such positions of influence.

Helen Jeys is a graduate of Durham University, where she read religion and philosophy. She has previously been deputy head (pastoral), and head of religion and philosophy at MHSG, as well as head of Alderley Edge School for Girls. She returned to MHSG in September 2020.

1 Comment
  • Clare Barnett

    Lovely to hear your story Helen, and understand how you are working through these challenging times – it is always about how we manage the challenges, and take care of ourselves during such times.

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