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Susan Douglas CBE

Susan Douglas was awarded a CBE for her services to Education in the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours list. She shares her memories of why her time at Warwick was ‘life-changing’, and why being an educator is the greatest privilege of all.

“I think many people say that their university experience was seminal and life changing - this was certainly the case for me.

“I arrived at Westwood campus to study a BA(QTS) Hons on a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon in October 1987. I’d never really been away from home before and cried when my parents left, but what followed were four brilliant years of self-discovery, learning – not only through my studies, but so much more – my first love and heartbreak, and the creation of lifelong friendships.

“I chose to study at Warwick, not only because of its academic and political reputation, but because it had such a broad arts offer. I joined everything I could and performed in the University Choir and Orchestra, as well as taking part in several brilliant musicals and plays. The University supported me when I was very ill in my fourth year, and I’ll always be grateful for the experience I had as a non-sabbatical officer, which taught me so much about collaboration and leadership as well as political persuasion and influence (we campaigned for and introduced anonymous marking, for example).

“During my time at Warwick, I considered deviating from my lifelong ambition to teach and to be a headteacher. I looked into a career in banking, and was offered a fast-track grad position with Barclays, but Professor Rolph Schwarzenberger (firmly!) suggested that I should at least do my probationary year in the classroom. I took his advice and started my career in Hillingdon in West London. I loved it and was a headteacher by the age of 28, although this wasn’t intentional, the substantive headteacher sadly retired due to ill-health. I never looked back and have loved my career ever since.

“Since leaving headship in 2006, I’ve taken on a variety of roles, including senior adviser at the British Council. I still work at the British Council two days a week and have been lucky enough to work across the world in settings such as Myanmar, Ethiopia, Yemen, Spain, Brazil, Bangladesh, South Africa and Egypt. For the other three days a week, I’m CEO of the Eden Academy Trust, a group of seven special schools for pupils with complex needs, and this, without doubt, has been the greatest privilege of all.

“For anyone considering a career in education, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I don’t think I’ve ever been more challenged workwise than over the past two years during the Covid-19 pandemic, but I’m honoured to have served during this time.

“Warwick, without doubt, taught me to be me, which is the greatest gift a university can give. It allowed me to experiment with who I was, stand up for what I felt was right (particularly in terms of LGBT+ rights) and imbued me with the confidence to create a meaningful career for myself of which I’m incredibly proud.

“It’s hard to choose just one favourite memory but I’m going to go for singing the Masochism Tango as part of the LGBT+ cabaret which performed in various spots in the West Midlands.”