School report: Princess Helena College, Preston

Princess Helena College aims to instill the ability to 'feel the fear and do it anyway’'

Princess Helena College aims to instill the ability to 'feel the fear and do it anyway’' - Credit: Princess Helena College

Sue Wallace-Woodroffe, headmistress of the independent girls school in Preston near Hitchin, gives an insight into its long history and modern vision

When was the school founded?

Sophia Williams founded the school in 1820 to educate girls whose fathers had died in the Napoleonic Wars. In 1874, Princess Helena, Queen Victoria’s third daughter, became president of the school and we have enjoyed royal patronage ever since. We are looking forward to celebrating the school’s 200th anniversary in 2020.

What is it renowned for?

This quote from a current Year 11 parent sums up what PHC excels at: ‘Meeting the individual needs of all girls and helping them to achieve more than they would be able to anywhere else’.

As a small school by choice, we are able to take time to get to know each girl and understand what makes her tick, then offer a tailored education to support her interests and capabilities. Our mentor scheme ensures every girl has a staff member dedicated to guiding her both academically and personally to challenge herself and stretch beyond her comfort zone. This supportive framework enables girls to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’, gaining confidence, personal pride, true independence and the resilience to push themselves and thrive academically, exceeding their own expectations.

What’s the school motto?

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Fortis qui se vincit – ‘Strong is she who conquers herself’. It has been our motto for a very long time and continues to resonate. Self-doubt limits so many possibilities in life, and victory over herself may be the ultimate achievement any girl can strive towards. We help girls discover their own self-awareness, self-belief and self-worth, enabling them to make the most of everything life has to offer and become passionately purposeful in their lives to achieve beyond their dreams.

How do you assess today’s education system?

Education today is about so much more than just the curriculum – it is about ensuring girls leave school prepared for the world beyond. The speed of change in technology and the global workplace means girls need

the life skills that enable them to take on the

world and grasp opportunities. We empower our girls to express opinions, lead projects, and affect change, so that by the time they leave us, they have already had leadership experience, and accepting responsibility is the norm. The firm foundations of academic rigour, life skills and emotional wellbeing laid at PHC create women ready for the world’s creative, innovative and energised workplace.

Who are your star alumni?

Baroness Trumpington, politician and Conservative member of the House of Lords was educated at PHC. More recent alumni include TV news presenter Helena Humphrey, Sophie Gordon who is Head of Photographs for the Royal Photographic Collection at Windsor Castle and Sally Potterton, professional violinist.

Tell us a surprising story about the school

During the Second World War, alongside girls at the school, PHC became home to nurses from bombed hospitals, children of French Resistance fighters and overseas airmen. The school remained untouched by opposition forces, although marauding Canadian soldiers stole a statue of a gazelle – one of two that were perched upon the pillars of the main gates.

School facts & figures

Address: Preston, nr Hitchin, Herts SG4 7RT

Pupils: 200

Age: 11-18

Gender: Girls

Day or boarding: Day, and full, weekly and flexi boarding


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