Interview: Nicola Smillie, headmistress of Alderley Edge School for Girls

Nicola Smillie is one term into her post as headmistress of Alderley Edge School for Girls. Here, she shares her passion for mental health and being able to shape the lives of the girls at her school

Q. As the new headmistress of Alderley Edge School for Girls, what has the experience been like so far?

I have thoroughly enjoyed my first term at AESG. It is such a friendly and welcoming school. Despite working with the Covid-19 restrictions, we have tried our best to make daily life in school as normal as possible.

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

Without doubt, the best thing is having the opportunity to shape the lives of girls of all ages. I absolutely love interacting with the girls through teaching, assemblies, student council and attending school events. The worst thing about being a head is dealing with complex, confidential and sensitive situations, but I have always worked hard to provide support during these times to ensure the best outcome for my pupils or staff.

Q. What was it about Alderley Edge School for Girls that made you take the job?

I have worked in small- and medium-sized girls’ schools since 1995 and am totally committed to the many benefits of single-sex education for girls. The school’s aims and ethos resonated with my philosophy of education. The supportive environment provided by the school enables the girls to develop a lifelong love of learning and a thirst for knowledge while ensuring that all girls achieve their full potential.

Q. What was your favourite subject at school and why?

Modern foreign languages and geography. My geography teacher was inspirational and encouraged the love of travel and a desire to see the world. Being able to communicate in other languages helps you to appreciate the traditions, art, culture and history of the people of that country, and promotes greater tolerance, empathy and acceptance of others.

Alderley Edge School for Girls
The school has a supportive environment to enable the girls to develop a ‘thirst for knowledge’

Q. What are you currently reading and what do you like about it?

I always have a selection of books on my bedside table. Currently, I am reading A Long Petal of the Sea by the Chilean author Isabel Allende. The novel spans decades and moves between Spain and South America following two young people as they flee the aftermath of the Civil War. I am also dipping in and out of the Lonely Planet’s Complete Guide to Argentina, dreaming of a time when we can travel again!

Q. What issue in education are you most passionate about?

Mental health and wellbeing – I have just completed a Youth Mental Health First Aid training course, which was invaluable in providing the necessary information and skills to look after our own mental health and offer the much-needed support that young people need.

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

My initial career choice was to be a travel journalist and to work in Spain or South America. At the time, I thought it was a perfect job to combine travel and my love of the Hispanic world. However, while I was living in Seville during my year abroad, I gave English conversation classes at the university. I thoroughly enjoyed delivering the classes and the interaction with students. This was the catalyst which made me apply for my PGCE course.

Q. What words of advice do you have for other heads at this time?

Try to keep a sense of balance and perspective during these challenging times, including finding time to disconnect from emails and do something to relax. Above all, maintain close links with fellow heads through your associations, so you can share your worries and concerns.

See our previous interview with Simon Ruscoe-Price, headmaster, Abbotsholme School

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