SWINDON UTC Executive Principal Joanne Harper, 46, was appointed recently in the wake of a highly critical Ofsted report. She already holds the same post at Reading UTC, which is the first UTC to have been rated as outstanding across all areas by the inspectors. Joanne lives in High Wycombe and is married.

“My big passion is making a difference to as many children’s lives as I can,” said Joanne Harper.

“That’s the reason I always wanted to become a head teacher. I knew I wanted to become a head teacher from the day I started teaching, because I felt that was my way of influencing more people’s lives.

“When you’re teaching in your own classroom you can influence those children, but as a head you can influence more.”

Her latest challenge, leading Swindon UTC from the shadow of its Ofsted slating, is a tough one - but one she relishes.

“Probably the overwhelming first impression for me of UTC Swindon is the absolute positivity of the students and staff.

“What I mean by that, I suppose, is that when I talk to students they talk incredibly fondly of how moving to UTC Swindon has made a difference for them. They feel more confident as individuals, they feel happier here, they feel safe and secure and they feel they’re making really good progress in their lessons.

“For me that is a really strong starting point.

“The staff here are very skilled and came to work here because they, like me, wanted to do something different and were keen to explore a different kind of education, and make a difference to students’ lives.

“Also, the ability to work with industry is a really big pull, I think, because that’s something you don’t really get in the other areas of the educational landscape at the moment.

“I can feel the undercurrent of excitement about what this place can be.

“What needs to happen? I think Swindon UTC got, absolutely, the important bits right, which is about caring for youngsters, nurturing and supporting them and creating the right environment.

“That’s really important to say.

“When you start a brand new school, you’re doing everything from scratch. It’s hard. I’ve been there with Reading. But you’re not just starting a brand new school; you’re starting a brand new school which is something different, which doesn’t fit into the norm of what everybody expects. You’re expected to be innovative.

“Therefore, when you’re doing all of that it’s very easy to not be able to do everything as well as you’d like to do. What this school needs to do now is make sure all of its industry partner links are thriving.

“We need to get more industry partners into the building to get the students more excited about engineering. We need to bring that curriculum to life. They’re the main things.

“It feels like we’ve got all the ingredients lined up, but at this point they haven’t been put together to make the cake properly.”

Joanne is originally from Stoke-on-Trent. Her father was a JCB quality engineer and her mother a personnel officer.

“Looking back now, I was always very much involved in doing - I just wanted to be making things and being very active. I was a very sporty child, too.

“I spent a lot of time building things. I like to solve problems.”

Joanne went to Loughborough University for a joint honours degree in maths and education.

“I never had a great desire to be a teacher when I was in my younger years. I actually quite fancied the idea of going into the Forces.

“But when I was in the sixth form in school I did some support with some of the lower years intervention groups. It was almost like teaching support. It was voluntary and I really enjoyed it. That’s what led me to look into university degrees that were joint honours with the maths, because maths was my main passion.”

Why maths?

“I think it was because I always enjoyed problem solving and maths always had an answer. I enjoyed the fact that I got a solution at the end of dealing with maths problems and I knew whether it was right or wrong.

“It is the purest form of problem solving.”

Joanne began her teaching career at a school in Hillingdon, staying for 13 years and rising to the post of vice-principal.

“I loved being in the classroom. I still love getting into the classroom and teaching the students but I just get less time to do it these days. I get a complete and utter buzz about teaching and helping youngsters to understand maths.”

She then became vice principal of another Hillingdon school.

“It was a failing school and myself and the then principal worked together to turn it around into an outstanding school within 18 months. I subsequently ended up being the principal.”

In January of 2013, Joanne became principal designate UTC Reading.

“I really was drawn to the fact that it was a school which was focusing on engineering and computing, and was an opportunity to start a school from scratch in a new building, employ all your own staff, recruit all your own students.”

Joanne is determined to make Swindon’s UTC every bit as successful as Reading’s, which is the first UTC to have been rated as outstanding across all areas by Ofsted inspectors.

“In terms of what we need to do moving forward, without a doubt UTC Swindon needs to work more collaboratively with the other educational partners in Swindon – the local authority and the other head teachers and principals.

“One of the things I’m keen to work with other head teachers in is making sure they and their staff and parents and children are aware of UTC Swindon and what it’s here for; that when a child aged 13 to 16 decides that this would suit them better for their career aspirations, that collectively we support them in that.

“The thing that always wins out for me is my moral obligation to make a difference to as many children’s lives as possible.

“If that moral obligation is always your overriding obligation, you will always come back to working together to make a difference.

“That’s guided me, I think, throughout my entire career.”