Meet the head: Mary Arnal at St Mary’s Shaftesbury

Mary Arnal the new head at St Mary's Shaftesbury

Mary Arnal the new head at St Mary's Shaftesbury - Credit: Archant

Mary Arnal, the new head at St Mary’s Shaftesbury, is relishing taking the school to a more global level and inspiring its pupils to aim high, be creative and make a real difference in the world

What inspired you to take up this new post?

My life has been steeped in girls boarding and as a teacher of Psychology and English, I am also drawn to the pastoral welfare of pupils. This post is an opportunity to work in a school with an excellent reputation and make it even better. It really is a hidden gem. The staff, parent and pupil body here are extraordinarily loyal and love the estate, the teaching and the Chapel life.

I have lived in the area for over three years and connected with other local schools, not least Sherborne School and Sherborne International, where I was principal. I am proud to say that I left that school with a rating of excellent in all areas so I am thrilled to bring this knowledge to St Mary’s Shaftesbury.

What are the benefits of an all-girls boarding school in this day and age?

Girls triumph as the opportunities are there to learn all day every day. School becomes an extension of home, especially as we involve parents so much. They know they are connected to them by social media and can rest easy knowing that nutrition, learning, personality development, physical and mental health and moral courage is being instilled in their daughters.

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Our girls study in a challenging, non-threatening environment of mutual support. Strong female and male teachers act as superb role-models in their various specialist subjects, inspiring the girls to aim high.

The older girls learn community living, to be giving and to have responsibility for the younger girls. They interact brilliantly and each girl feels a valued member of our school. Our day girls also receive just as much and our international boarding cohort bring vibrancy, cultural competence and spice to the houses.

Tell me about the pastoral welfare at St Mary’s

We have a programme of mental and physical well-being where our PE, catering and medical staff work together to create a wrap-around care and support for the girls. In addition there are relaxation and meditation classes, Pilates as well as outdoor sports and walking groups.

St Mary’s, as a Catholic school, also nourishes the soul. The Chapel is at the heart of school - open-armed to all faiths and none. I often see a girl or teacher slip in to have quiet time or offer a prayer. Our chaplain is not only a fount of wisdom but also offers counselling and good advice when times are tough.

How does St Mary’s prepare young women for the modern world?

We prepare our young women to be socially aware, media savvy and articulate. We collaborate with our sister schools in London, Cambridge and abroad and open the girls to a diversity of cultural and political knowledge, so they can form educated opinions on issues for themselves. They leave us as highly creative women ready to make a difference in the world.

What are the most important qualities to bring out in your pupils?

My view is that, with all the learning and empowering that happens at St Mary’s, what makes a girl truly stand out here is her humility. Success is built on reflection, service to others and sometimes learning from personal failure and moving on. This character formation stems directly from the Christian ethos which is our raison d’etre “do unto others… and be compassionate”.

And if you hadn’t been a teacher?

I always wanted to be a teacher; in my view, the most noble profession in the world.


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