Talking Heads: Howell’s School, Llandaff

Sally Davis is Principal of Howell’s School, Llandaff. She shares her views on education, the GDST and offers advice for aspiring leaders.


How and why did you decide to get into education?

I got into teaching totally by accident. When I finished school I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn’t want to become a teacher. My mother thought that teaching was a nice little job for a woman to do around looking after the children, and I was very pro women doing what they want to do.

I studied geology at university, which I loved, but there wasn’t much I could do with it. I definitely didn’t want to go on the oil rigs! I also didn’t want to be stuck in an office. A friend was going to do teacher training in Plymouth and in those heady days, you’d get a full grant and living expenses. I thought, Plymouth seems like a nice place to be, so off I went!

When I taught my first lesson I was hooked. I absolutely loved it. I loved the variety and I found it very rewarding having everyone listening to me and hanging on my every word. The first school I taught at was a great school, and I thought ‘this is great, this is so easy’. The next school was really challenging but I loved that too – trying to think of ways to explain things and doing things differently.

Right from the start I wanted more, and very soon I was promoted to Head of Year, Head of Department and soon I became Assistant Principal. I then applied for a job at Howell’s and I got it. 26 years later I’m still here!

What does being part of the GDST family mean to you?

I suppose the word family says it all. All our students, past and present, belong to this far-reaching network. As teachers, it allows us to work collaboratively and share ideas, for our students, the opportunity to connect with their peers. For me as a Head it gives me the chance to work with 24 other very high-achieving articulate men and women. As a family they’re there to help with you have problems and there to celebrate when things go well. Nowhere else do you get that opportunity – the GDST is completely unique

What do you say to girls aspiring to be future leaders?

To aspiring leaders I would say don’t be afraid – the bumps in the road will teach you far more than a smooth and uninterrupted journey. Embrace your mistakes, learn from them, and if you’re like me you’ll smile when you remember them.

Tell us about some exciting things coming up at Howell’s

The school site is looking tip-top. Our fantastic new sports complex has a pavilion, an astroturf, and tennis courts along with fields for cricket and rounders. The facilities opened in September and have brought with them some regional and national wins for tennis, hockey, netball and rowing. Our Director of Sport tells us we’re going to have to buy a new trophy cabinet!

What is your favourite film?

Gone with the Wind. I love the costumes, the grandeur and the sheer scale of it. I also love the part when Scarlett O’Hara says “I’ll think about that tomorrow.” I think sometimes that’s true – sometimes you do need to take until tomorrow to think about things. That line is something I’ve kept with me and I think about when recruiting new staff or making big decisions.

Who is your favourite musician?

The most amazing concert I ever been to was Al Green when I was in Charleston. Seeing him was a night to remember. Also I love Elvis Costello and the Proclaimers.

What’s your favourite musical?

One of the best musicals I’ve ever seen is Half a Sixpence. I bought tickets to see it with my mother, and I loved it so much I went again the next day and the day after that!

Do you have a favourite place?

Dale, in west Wales. It’s a small village and every summer we’d go abroad somewhere and then at the end of August we’d go to Dale. It became a very important place for the children. It’s a small village and there’s nothing to do there, there’s one shop, one café and one pub – it’s so relaxing! All we would do is go crabbing, have tea and coffee and spend time together as a family. When my son was younger he was asked at school to do a project on ‘places of power’ and he said ‘Dale is my place of power. It’s where Mummy and Daddy are fun.”

Tell us your favourite quote

“Believe in miracles, cures and healing wells, the best is yet to come.” Seamus Heaney.

I do believe you’ve always got to be looking forward. Be grateful for what you have now but always believe there’s something better, there’s something more you can do and be happy and optimistic about the future.

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