Johanna Urquhart: The Lomond School Family

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When she took up the post of Principal at Lomond School in Helensburgh in August 2014, Johanna Urquhart was the only female head of a Scottish HMC Independent School. Her passion for this fully integrated 3-to-18-year co-educational day and boarding school and the experience it offers pupils is clear as she talks about her career journey and the rewards of being part of the Lomond School family.

Family is a word which crops up often during Business Women Scotland’s chat with Johanna Urquhart. Johanna and her husband and two young boys moved from Fife last year to take up the leading role at the West of Scotland’s only day and boarding school and she is animated in her description of what appealed to her when she first visited Lomond School.

“When I considered applying for the role of Principal, I asked to come and see the school. It needed to feel right, it needed to be a place which was in line with my own educational beliefs and philosophies,” commented Johanna. “I was immediately struck by how welcoming and friendly it was. I got this incredible impression of being part of the Lomond School family straight away. The minute I walked into the Junior School’s Clarendon building, I knew my boys would love it. We are a small school of just over 400 pupils so we are a tightly-knit community and I know all our children very well. The relationships between the adults at the school and our young people are very strong, very respectful.”

Prior to joining Lomond School, Johanna was Deputy Head at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh and before that, she was Deputy Head at Breadalbane Academy in Aberfeldy. She qualified with a Bachelor of Science Degree with Honours in Mathematics and Statistics, then followed this, with a Masters Degree in Education, specialising in Leadership and Management.

“I have been lucky enough to learn my craft in good schools, with great teachers. However, it was only when I moved to the post of Deputy Head at George Watson’s College that I understood the difference that an independent education can make. Lomond School offers a huge diversity of non-academic activities, from traditional sport to Duke of Edinburgh Awards, to clubs and societies and a strong commitment to outdoor education. This allows pupils to develop skills such as creativity, teamwork, communication and leadership.”

A clear vision and a strong sense of leadership are immediately apparent in Johanna’s approach to her role as Principal. “During my first year at Lomond, we developed the Guiding Principles and Core Values of the school,” she said. “Our Guiding Principles underpin our curriculum and co-curriculum; Leadership, Lifelong Learning, Service, Internationalism, Environmentalism and Adventure.”

There is a wealth of opportunities for the young people at Lomond School to develop strong leadership skills, whether it’s in the classroom, being involved in committees and the Pupil Learning Council, becoming a Head of House, a peer mentor or an academic mentor. Pupils are encouraged to take the initiative. The school’s Young Engineering Club and Young Musicians Club were both instigated and are led by pupils.

“True leadership is about personal responsibility, compassion and integrity,” commented Johanna. “It’s also about being reflective, asking yourself ‘what did I do well? What can I do better? How can I manage myself and other people better?’”

There are now two female Principals amongst Scotland’s 21 HMC independent schools so whilst Johanna is no longer the lone female voice, there is clearly much progress to be done to get more women into senior roles within the sector. “It’s good for girls and young women to have strong female role models, to see that there are no limits to what they ↷ can aspire to and achieve,” said Johanna. “Leadership roles in education, particularly the independent sector, have been traditionally male dominated and it can be hard to break into. Most Boards of Governors are male dominated as well. Women often have particular challenges to overcome balancing family life and work and it’s possible that women deliberately don’t put themselves forward for leadership roles so they’re not visible at that level. It’s so important to have a mentor and I’ve had positive mentors throughout my career in education.This has made me realise how important it is for me to provide this support and guidance for the people whom I line manage.”

The school recently appointed a Head of Adventure & Service, in line with one of its guiding principles to ‘offer a rich programme of events and activities which foster a spirit for adventure and facilitate opportunities for pupils to discover they are capable of achieving amazing things.’ Lomond’s commitment to outdoor education and outdoor learning certainly tick the box when it comes to adventure. All the way through Lomond School from Nursery to Senior 6 there are opportunities for learning in the outdoors. Sailing, canoeing, skiing, hill running and climbing are just a few of the activities on offer and all the time the children are learning their literacy, numeracy or topic work. Our Forest School experience runs from Nursery to P7 and involves learning through purposeful play and responsible risk-taking – this includes activities such as woodland art and crafts, safe use of tools, shelter building, games, camp fire cooking and the discovery of flora and fauna. “There is a lot of research showing the positive links between outdoor learning and children’s emotional resilience, independence, self-awareness and even academic performance.”

Johanna’s strong commitment to the holistic development of each child as an individual is evident in her strategy for leading Lomond School as a progressive and meaningful place of learning and development. “Of course we want every pupil to achieve their best academically but you also need to develop those essential life skills which will allow them to become well rounded global citizens. We foster determination, courage, perseverance, compassion, responsibility, tolerance, self belief and the ability to reflect on our strengths and weaknesses. As we also offer boarding from the age of 10, we have pupils from all over the world and this fosters a strong sense of internationalism and an appreciation of cultural diversity.”