We really enjoyed catching up with Louise Chamberlain, headteacher at Walthamstow Hall, Sevenoaks

With a lifelong interest in medical microbiology and its impact on societies, coupled with a great passion for education, Louise Chamberlain is well-placed to navigate her school through these post-pandemic times.

What attracted you to Wally Hall?
The first time I visited the school I fell in love with it. The warmth and the buzz of it drew me in and the quality of the relationships between the staff and the pupils really stood out. There’s a genuine sense of wanting to understand the pupil as they are and where their individual light might shine. They are given a really broad range of experiences in and out of the classroom allowing them the opportunity to discover what they might be good at or find interesting. They aren’t put in a box early on. It’s important that children are able to explore new interests and strengths as they get older. I noticed that the pupils are confident and articulate but they have no arrogance and there’s no set way to be a ‘Wally student’.
I really like the fact that this is one of the oldest girls’ schools in the country. There’s a balance between being a custodian of an educational heritage while at the same time navigating towards the future. Looking at the history of the school it has never been a stereotypical girls’ school, it’s always been about helping the pupils find out who they are rather than being told ‘this is what you must do’. It’s a fabulous school.

Who inspired you to study science?
My parents both have science backgrounds and I went to an all girls’ school where the headteacher was incredibly positive about STEM. I was very fortunate that the adults around me weren’t just answering my questions
but they also encouraged me to ask more. I’m incredibly interested in medical microbiology and particularly how it intertwines with history and influences societies.

What are you most excited about?
At our Junior site we’ve just expanded the nursery and pre-school, which is very exciting. We have small boys joining our nursery and preschool, which is wonderful. The team here have lots of experience of working with boys and girls and in the nursery you have great indoor and outdoor facilities. We have a lovely forest school area where pupils have lots of fun. During a recent visit I had leaves and a lovely slug put on me by the children!
This is a flourishing school, where the staff support pupils to fulfil their potential and go onto not only university but also hugely competitive apprenticeships. We had a group who in addition to building a greenpower racing car went on to take it to Goodwood to race it! I want as many people as possible to know what a super place this is and I’m excited about spreading the word.

What do you see as the greatest challenges?
I think they are the same for everyone. Across the country we have a cohort of young people who struggle with resilience – there’s a lot of evidence that young people find it difficult to make even small mistakes. I’ve done a lot of reading about how even very young children don’t feel they can have a go at something in case they don’t succeed. That is a great challenge in education at the minute and we need to let children see that making little errors is part of learning, it’s an opportunity for growth.
I love our school’s logo, which is a ship. If you set sail on a ship you know sometimes it will be stormy. You keep sailing on and there are loads of other people on board – we aren’t alone.

How do you relax outside work?
I do a lot of reading, I tend to have several books on the go. At the moment I’m working my way through Pathogenesis by Jonathan Kennedy, The Square of Sevens by Laura Shepherd-Robinson and The Venetian Venture by Suzette A. Hill. I also have Herring’s Medical Law and Ethics and I’ve just got the latest Mason and Mcall Smith’s Law and Medical Ethics because I’m going to run a bio ethics club for the sixth form here. It’s something I’ve always found interesting and I’m very excited about.
I’ve also just finished an undergraduate diploma with Cambridge University in archaeology, focusing on death in the ancient world, it’s been a great reminder of what it’s like to be the one needing to meet essay deadlines. And I have a big extended family, so there’s always something exciting going on somewhere. I also really enjoy political satire, so like to tune into Dead Ringers and other Radio 4 comedies.

What book would you recommend to parents?
I highly recommend Every Teenager Needs a Parrot by Alicia Drummond and also Failosophy by Elizabeth Day. It’s very helpful for assisting with resilience – being ready to learn from mistakes, rather than being too afraid to try.

Where are your favourite places to visit?
I like walking and we’re extremely lucky to have Knole Park on our doorstep. I was recommended the independent bookshop in Sevenoaks and since my first visit I never leave with just one book! I also love Italian food so I’m looking forward to more visits to Marco, also here in Sevenoaks.

Find out more about Walthamstow Hall at walthamstow-hall.co.uk

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