Q and A: South Hampstead High School headteacher Vicky Bingham

South Hampstead High School Headteacher Vicky Bingham with Year 7 students on the seventh floor of t

South Hampstead High School Headteacher Vicky Bingham with Year 7 students on the seventh floor of the school. - Credit: Polly Hancock

We spoke to Vicky Bingham about why she loves being headteacher of South Hampstead High School.

What attracted you to the job?

Firstly the school’s reputation as one of the strongest schools academically nationally – I definitely knew about it! But what particularly attracted me to South Hampstead was that sense of learning for learning’s sake rather than being an exams factory. There is also a huge spirit of debate here and that was really evident when I met the head girl team who had to assess me. We were walking down to the junior school and one of the girls asked me, “do you think the next head of South Hampstead should be a woman?” I knew at that point that there were men in the process! They were quite feisty, but without being arrogant. There was a bit of spark to all of them and they were interested in asking questions – I see that in lessons all the time.

What were your first impressions of the school?

My first impression was “wow”. It was just that sense of light and that’s the school motto – ‘more light’. I love the fact that the library is just off the centre of the atrium and the school just goes up and up and down and down. In contrast to that the beautiful sixth form building with its oak panels and beautiful ceilings. It’s a really fabulous school, but there is also enough there for me to put my own stamp on it. For me it is not about changing the fundamental ethos of the school, but it is about making sure we always live out the fundamental values of South Hampstead. I also love the sense of individuality here – what I say is that we “don’t sweat the small stuff.”

What is your main background in education?

I am a classics teacher. I feel like I belong in academically ambitious, but quite progressive girls’ schools. I’ve always worked in schools which are outward looking and modern in their thinking, but do encourage a sense of intellectual enquiry.

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What are the main values at South Hampstead?

It is that sense of intellectual enquiry. The respect for a certain amount of individual freedom, but also a real sense of community. We have a family here who amazingly have five generations of South Hampstead women. There is that sense of quirkiness and room to be yourself, and a spirit of endeavour. The girls here work hard, but they do have a sense of balance and kindness and respect for differences. There is a real sense of loyalty to the school. I also think South Hampstead is quite an unpretentious school and I like that.

What do you like most about the area?

We can bring in speakers and organise trips to all the great theatres and museums in London, such as The Freud Museum on our doorstep. The girls seem to be quite involved in their communities as well. Quite a few are in young Jewish societies, the scouts or the guides and theatre groups. A lot of our parents have links to the community. We also reach out to local Hampstead residents with our pensioners’ links programmes. Hampstead has such strong literary and cultural music links. The transport links are phenomenal. We are in a nice residential area, near Primrose Hill and Parliament Hill. They certainly don’t live a sheltered life here.

What future plans are you most excited about?

I want to redevelop our main school hall. Music and drama are stunning here so it just needs that performance space. We are starting the first phase of the project this summer. I’d like to be able to offer that to the Hampstead community. We want to give our world class speakers a world class space. I also want to make sure team sport is as good as it can be. We have fabulous facilities here and I’ve expanded the PE department so that it is an area of focus. We will start to see that all unfold from September.

What have your proudest moments since you have been here?

We had a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Kailash Satyarthi, here. His mission in life is to rescue children from child labour. He came here for a phenomenal assembly. We also had a singing concert put on by a former South Hampstead music director which was so amazing that by the time I had to judge the performances I was a blubbering mess – that was my most special moment.