Leiston Abbey

Made by Girls

Life & Living

Places&Faces talks to Hazel Packer Director of Sixth Form at Norwich High School for Girls GDST

Norwich High School remains true to its founding principles by offering girls excellence in education, experience and opportunity and they have always been keen to embrace fun and allow girls to flourish. To understand this a little more Places&Faces talks to Hazel Packer, Director of Sixth Form at Norwich High School for Girls GDST.

How did you first get into teaching?

I was brought up in Norwich and went to the Blyth Jex School which is now Sewell Park. I had a real wanderlust and loved learning
about the world, but I wanted to see it too. I took up a practical work placement in Iceland after my A Levels which helped confirm my chosen degree as a Geography teacher (ice and volcanoes are amongst my favourite topics today). My family instilled the value of integrity, hard work and sticking at something. Having been involved with youth work in my gap year before gaining a First in Geography at Durham University, I wanted a career where I could use my degree directly, but also nurture others; teaching offered the chance to do both.

I’ve spent nearly all of my teaching career at Norwich High working in different roles before taking on the Director of Sixth Form role in 2012. Very early on in my time here I had senior members of staff offering me the opportunities to gain more responsibility. I am now being supported through a Master’s Degree alongside my role on the Senior Leadership Team.

What is the best part of your job?

I am lucky to work with students as they prepare to move on to university, apprenticeships and careers. Working 1:1 with students, along with the support of incredible colleagues, is the most fulfilling part of my job. Discovering what drives and excites each individual enables us to fully support them as they steer their course onwards. 

How would you describe the Sixth Form at Norwich High?

Anyone who visits the school picks up on the warmth of the atmosphere. But when you join the community, you learn how collegiate and supportive it is. Students genuinely celebrate one another’s successes but it is in more difficult times that you feel the strength of the community pull together and it is wonderful to nurture and be part of that.

We know our students as individuals. We understand how to stretch them and are always on the lookout for opportunities for them. Our Six+ programme has been running in various guises for nearly fifteen years offering talks to encourage students to be open to new ideas, forge their own paths and follow their own interests. There are no gendered expectations and as a result our students thrive. We have scientists, computer scientists, mathematicians and engineers alongside artists, actors, humanities students and so on. Students are encouraged to question and develop far beyond the curriculum. 

How do you prepare students for life after school?

I feel a huge sense of responsibility to do the very best I can for our students in preparing them for real life, not just to pass exams. In real life things can be quite unexpected and paths can be a lot more winding than one anticipates. Young people need to be prepared to deal with novel situations and have the confidence in themselves to trust their own judgement and the resilience to go again. It is vital that our young people develop self esteem and the ability to connect with others; we aim to nurture them so that they can walk into any room and feel confident talking to anyone there knowing they have something to bring and that what they say is of value. If we teach them to work in teams and have a voice, then they are going to have a voice whether it is in a boardroom, in a meeting or in a relationship.

Having fun and being creative, trying new things and not being overly concerned about failing are all important. Our students can fail and they will get picked up and can try again given our supportive environment. In life, what we often need more than anything is grit and determination; our students develop this through all our activities and programmes.

What are you most proud of during your time as Director of Sixth Form?

I’m proud of our community and its legacy. It is always fantastic to hear back from alumnae about their successes
and the differences they are making within their communities. Their commitment, zest and energy inspires
me and helps me in turn to inspire current Sixth Formers.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

As well as studying for my Master’s, I am usually found on a sports pitch, most often cheering on one of our three children from the sidelines, but I also play football (enthusiastically, if not skillfully) for a local team, Leftfield FC. I love to be by or in the water and as a family we love heading to the North Norfolk coast, exploring the marshes and grabbing a bite to eat at the White Horse in Brancaster Staithe, or paddleboarding on one of the county’s many waterways. We have recently returned from hiking, walking and paddling our way round Savoie, France.