Inspirational Woman: Siobhan McGrath | Executive Principal, Southbank International School

Siobhan McGrathSiobhan joined Southbank in September 2013. She was born in New Zealand to Irish and English parents and is a passionate reader.

She regularly lectures on teacher training and educational leadership courses at university and runs in-service insets for schools.

Siobhan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and History (University of Canterbury), a Diploma of Teaching (Christchurch College of Education) and a Master’s in Educational Leadership (University of Buckingham).

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am Executive Principal at Southbank International School in London, one of the leading international schools in Central London, which has the three campuses: Westminster; Kensington and Hampstead. With students from over 70 different countries, Southbank offers best-in-class education for children and young people aged 3-19 based around the International Baccalaureate curriculum, where we encourage independent learning and an inquiring mind.

I am also governor for an outstanding state primary school in London and I volunteer at my local cinema, a social enterprise, selling popcorn.

I am a New Zealander who has taught all ages from 3 to 19 years throughout my career.

I also lecture to teacher trainees and Masters students.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Definitely not. I have been promoted over and over again by being asked to do ‘the next job up’.  It has been one huge unintended accident to get this far in my career.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

I ended up having to lead my school at short notice during an extremely difficult period a few years ago.  It was like a black umbrella was constantly above me, I woke up to it, and went to sleep with it, there was no escape.  Similarly to having to lead a school during COVID, even though you feel like walking away, you know you can’t, or you shouldn’t. I ask myself ‘if it isn’t you, who will it be?’  You understand that you are part of a family, a community, and you can’t abandon it when things get tough.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I am most proud of the fact that I know all of the children in our school and most of our parents, especially important in the last 18 months when relationships could have become so fractured due to physical distancing and online learning.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Understanding the importance of culture in an organisation and how leadership plays an integral part of that. I’m Antipodean, so naturally inclined to be direct and am relatively easy going. I think I am compassionate and caring, and know that relationships are the most important part of leadership.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

Mentoring can be a really useful process for some people; combined with some knowledge of coaching, I think an effective mentor can offer invaluable support. Any process that develops improved self-understanding and self-knowledge is beneficial to making us better people.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

As an educator, I would have to say target young people: build awareness of inequality in all its forms and critically, teach both genders how to recognise and challenge inequality when they see it.  Give them the words and knowledge to call it out.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Have more breaks, eat more cake.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

My next challenge is to try to unite our community.  The past 18 months have pushed us away from each other, and we want to find ways where we can be together again.  We are ultimately social animals and need to heal together, to find joy in small things and to have some fun.


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