After 18 years heading up three girls’ schools in the UK and working in seven before that as a science teacher, Canberra Girls’ Grammar’s new principal Anne Coutts has crossed the seas for the sake of change and a challenge.“
I am a passionate educationalist,” says Coutts, who first became a school head at 34 and was the youngest independent school headmistress in the UK.
“I’m really interested in change and improvement and making things the best they can be. I’m not a consolidation kind of person, I like to move forward.”
With a strong belief in the power of mind over matter, Coutts says she has a personal edict in attitude over knowledge.
“Anybody can learn facts, anybody can find out about things,” she declares. “We’re on an information highway, you can research anything. What you can’t learn is how you approach what you do, the way you invest time in what you’re doing.
“If we’re doing education properly we should be teaching educational approach. If the attitude and approach is right, the world is your oyster.”
The former medical researcher is enthusiastic about her new role, politely pointing out it took a big offer to leave her post at the elite Headington School, Oxford.
“I was often approached by headhunters for positions in the UK, but because Headington was such a good girls’ school, it wasn’t at all tempting to move elsewhere,” Coutts says delicately.
“Then, one day, I got an email saying ‘would you consider putting your name forward for this’. I went home and said to my husband: ‘What do you think? Shall we give it a go?’.”
Packing up her Nikon, saxophone and Anglican minister husband Ian, Coutts has left her grown-up daughters Amy and Rachel behind in Britain.
“It’s a huge move,” Coutts says. “The hardest thing was leaving my daughters behind, I totally understand that they’re embedded in their jobs with all their friends and everything. They were just tremendous, they both said: ‘Mum, if it was us, you’d say go for it’.
“I’m the kind of person who likes a challenge, I like doing new things. Having got that school [Headington] to a very good position, having to maintain that sort of position isn’t very exciting as building it up in the first place.
“What I’m doing now is just getting to know people, finding out how things work here, finding out what people’s strengths and weaknesses are and just spending the first semester really looking about, listening, finding out what’s going on.
“I’m a scientist, I like data.
“There’s absolutely no point in changing things by mistake, you need to know what’s happened before in order to make change effective. And there’s no point in changing something that’s working effectively in the first place.
“I bring a lot of experience and a fresh pair of eyes.”