Focus on Suzie Longstaff
Suzie Longstaff joined London Park Schools (LPS) as principal in April this year, a new senior schools’ group in London that is part of Dukes Education. The first LPS school, LPS Clapham, has just opened, with more to follow. As proponents of experiential learning, the new schools will take advantage of Dukes Education’s tall ship in the Mediterranean to study marine conservation, as well as its alpine school to study geology and erosion.
She was previously head of Putney High School, GDST, one of London’s top day schools.
Before moving into education, Longstaff had a successful rowing career, including coxing the British Olympic VIII at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and the Cambridge University Goldie boat in the 1997 and 1998 Boat Races.
With a degree in economics from Durham, Longstaff has a PGCE in mathematics from Cambridge, a diploma in computing from Oxford, and a master’s in education from Bath. She is currently undertaking a part-time MBA. Her teaching career spans single sex, co- educational, day and boarding schools, including Shiplake College, Kingston Grammar School and Putney High School, GDST, where she was director of sixth form and deputy head academic before becoming headmistress in 2014. This year she was appointed as a governor of the Pointers School in Southeast London.
Longstaff ’s rich life experience informs her dynamic, forward-thinking attitude to what an outstanding education can be and she is an independent schools’ inspector and school governor. She encourages students to be both innovative and intrepid in their learning in an approach she calls ‘modern scholarship’ which is about making learning challenging, fun and relevant, exploring everything from entrepreneurship and oracy to design thinking and artificial intelligence.
Longstaff values sport, co-curricular activities, and community involvement as key to a rounded education and crucial in promoting good wellbeing in her students. She is a born leader who established Putney High as one of the UK’s leading schools: it was graded excellent with “exceptional” achievement in its last ISI inspection, ranked fifth for school sport nationally in 2020, shortlisted for the TES Independent Senior School of the Year 2022 and won a gold medal at RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2021 for its groundbreaking research into the benefits of biophilia on wellbeing and academic performance.
Longstaff was named as one of the i25 innovators and influencers in education in 2019. She is married, with twin daughters.
How many staff are there in your school?
LPS is a new group of co-educational senior schools – a new concept in modern secondary education that embraces the power of a smaller school to deliver bigger thinking. Staff work in their individual schools, but we are one team, working to the same overarching mission and vision – to deliver a new model of education developed for a modern world.
LPS Clapham is the first of our schools to go live – and we will be building on that model and recruiting more staff as we grow.
What has been the biggest challenge in your job so far?
Getting going with a vision of a new type of education for the modern world – one that is fit for the future, helps young people now, and sets them up for a new world; building a different model of education; being visionary – while still having to deliver the basics; acting like a start-up with that level of energy and small team; having big plans.
What will be the likely next big challenge?
Taking it to the next level – rolling it out; helping to agree and develop what modern, sustainable and ethical education is for the next generation; looking beyond our borders to draw on best practice from around the world; looking beyond the restrictions of ‘education’ for great ideas and ways to innovate and inspire our pupils.
What is the most useful advice you have been given?
When you see an opportunity, keep pushing. It will be hard and takes effort but it will be worth it. This was learnt on the river but is equally adaptable for London Park Schools – or life in general.
Who has been the biggest influence on you in your career? How?
My father showed me the importance of kind leadership, the fun of business strategy and how to appreciate the great outdoors. Sadly, he passed away a number of years ago with early onset Alzheimer’s, but my memories of him at work have been instrumental to me. He really cared about his colleagues and was a very down to earth and pragmatic leader.
Please relate a funny story from your career.
I have many funny stories and happy memories and in common with many teachers, have some crazy early career stories. I have had to be rescued heading backwards in a launch towards a weir in full throttle, unable to stop as the gear lever had fallen off and I have been lost on Dartmoor during a gold Duke of Edinburgh practice expedition. What I’ve loved about teaching is the fun, the variety, and the experiences that one would never normally expect to find in an office.
What was the best money-making project you introduced – and how much did it make?
The best money-making projects I have introduced have been student-led enterprise projects, such as the Ignite £5 challenge in my last school, where students had to build up their capital and sell their own made products to raise money for their house charities, or the Year 7 Entrepreneur Club which was scarily successful. I think it’s incredibly important to educate and encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs in the skills that may need to start their own business or develop a great idea.
What was the best cost-cutting project you introduced – and how much did it save?
With my educational background as an economist, maths teacher and head of IT, it may not be a surprise to read that I love looking at numbers and data and trying to think differently. Looking at our costs through a sustainability lens is my latest focus, saving money with an eco- conscience helps to galvanise support.
What’s been the biggest surprise you’ve had in school?
Winning a gold medal at Chelsea Flower Show for Putney High School’s biophilic classroom research into the wellbeing benefits of plants in classrooms was a complete and wonderful surprise. Arriving at Chelsea Flower Show early in the morning to see the gold medal placed on the stand was a moment I’ll never forget.
What is your lasting memory so far?
During my first day in my first PGCE teaching practice, I successfully separated two Year 10 boys having a fight. I remember thinking, “I’m going to love this job” and I was right. The variety, challenge, laughter and memories have all been wonderful and I’ve worked with the most amazing colleagues along the way.
What are your hobbies and outside interests?
As I am not that tall and don’t mind getting cold and wet, I’ve coxed many rowing crews over the years. I’ve always been drawn by the strong sense of team and absolutely love a tight race. At weekends, my routine is to run my local Parkrun on Saturday morning and then to escape down to my allotment, when I can. Getting some ‘me time’ is an important reset.
What are your personal future plans?
I’m excited by the opportunity to help develop schools that champion a modern approach to education and which, due to their size, can provide a more personal approach to education – while enabling bigger thinking. I love learning and I’m always keen to learn more and do better.