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Meet the Higher Education and Global Initiatives team

Ms Marya Akhtar Director of Higher Education and Global Initiatives It is a huge privilege to head up the team which provides our girls with the stepping stone to life beyond Downe House, helping the girls make the best choices for the next stage of their educational journey and future career. After a postgraduate degree in Economics, I went on to complete my PGCE from the University of London and started my teaching career in 1992 as a teacher of Economics. Before joining Downe, I gained valuable experience as a Head of Year and in higher education guidance at an independent day school. I joined Downe in 2006, and in my time here, I have successfully completed my postgraduate certificate in managing HE Guidance from the University of Cambridge. I teach A Level Economics and am also a Sixth Form Tutor. I thoroughly enjoy helping girls shape their futures through appropriate options choices in the Fourth and Fifth forms as well as guiding them on university admissions and equipping them with the transferable skills needed for a smooth transition into tertiary education. In my time at Downe, I have overseen the expansion of this department into specialist areas such as overseas universities applications, medicine applications, Oxbridge applications, creative applications and apprenticeships. We have a team dedicated to introducing the girls to the ‘world of work’ through work shadowing in the Fifth form and the World Ready Programme in the Sixth Form. We collaborate with the Foundation Office on the very popular DH LINKS initiative that connects our girls to our parent and alumnae communities for specialist guidance and experience in industry. I also head up the Global Initiatives team, preparing girls to become global citizens and ready for global employment. This programme delivers global schools’ exchanges, global internships and international days to help expand the global awareness of our girls. The Global Schools’ Exchange Programme has seen Downe House partner with 16 schools in USA, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, Spain, The Netherlands, Argentina, Hong Kong, China, India and Japan. This programme is ably supported by our excellent team of Global Ambassadors.

I graduated from St Andrews with an MA in Modern History before teaching History at St Leonards School where I was also Assistant Housemistress in the Upper Sixth House. I then spent five years at St Mary’s, Wantage teaching History and Politics as well as being Head of Year and continuing with some boarding duties. I arrived at Downe House in 2005 as a History teacher and began my role as Overseas Universities Advisor in 2007. I now combine both of these with being Housemistress of Tedworth but it is super to be able to continue my association with the Sixth Form who have moved on from Upper School. The role has expanded significantly over the last ten years and I have spent the time developing my knowledge of non-UK universities across continents. I was also fortunate enough to attend the International College Counselors Course in New York,

Mrs Sarah Barnard Overseas University Coordinator

which really helped to hone my ability to guide students applying to the US. The process for applying to the US has been streamlined in recent times and, as well as offering in-house SAT tuition from A-List Educational, all the Upper Sixth girls have an individually tailored programme which involves a weekly meeting to oversee their applications. For applications to other countries, such as Canada, a fortnightly meeting is usually scheduled. Over the last few years, girls have begun to explore higher education opportunities on a much more global level. Girls have gained places at universities in the US, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and Ireland. We are keen to encourage girls to be able to apply to the best universities possible and many of these fall outside the UK.

As part of my wider role I oversee the Oxbridge and Medicine programme. After receiving a first class honours degree from Lancaster University in English Literature, I was then awarded a full AHRC scholarship for both my MA, for which I received a Distinction, and also my PhD in twentieth-century literature which is now complete. I have also published a short monograph and several academic papers, and delivered a number of lectures at academic conferences, both in the UK and abroad. Before joining Downe House, I taught undergraduate-level English Literature for five years at the University of Kent and also played a role in the admissions process. In my role as Head of Oxbridge and Medicine Applications, I coordinate the team of expert teachers who mentor and assist the girls who are applying to any course at either Oxford or Cambridge, or to medical degrees, through the early UCAS

Dr Andrew Atherton Director of Research and Academic Enrichment

application process. Being amongst the most competitive university courses available, with increasingly complex admissions procedures, we help to guide and prepare applicants for the process. I am also responsible for the Elective Programme at Downe House which is a super-curriculum initiative. As well as meeting with me, girls with aspirations for early application will meet regularly with their mentor, who is a subject specialist, in order to guide them through the idiosyncrasies of their specific course whilst also helping to cultivate a deeper love of the subject. As such, this is a hugely gratifying role with both a practical and academic purpose. Together we not only provide support for the UCAS application itself and the various tests and interviews that go with it, but we also aim to enrich the girls’ intellectual experiences as they prepare for the next step in their academic career.

Throughout my career I have worked in various schools as a Psychology teacher, including two years at an international School in Beijing. In my teaching posts I have always held the role of Sixth Form Tutor and so have been heavily involved in the UCAS process with multiple cohorts, including students applying for, and successfully gaining places at, Oxford and Cambridge, and various prestigious universities both in the UK and overseas. In September 2014, I joined Downe House and I am now Director of Boarding, Housemistress of York EL, and the Sixth Form Higher Education Advisor. As part of my role, I provide individualised guidance for the Sixth Form girls to take them through the UCAS process, as well as providing all the necessary logistical information about how to apply to universities through assemblies, presentations and

Mrs Ellie Llewellyn Director of Boarding

the annual Lower Sixth Higher Education Applications Day. I am an Oxbridge mentor specialising in Psychology and Social Sciences.

(Operations) and Higher

I work closely with the rest of the Higher Education team to provide a network

Education Advisor

of expertise that the girls can utilise in order to ensure they make the best higher education decisions for them. Living in York with the Sixth Form girls allows me to support them effectively and means I am well placed to dispense higher education advice and support around the clock.

I graduated from Otago University in New Zealand with a degree in Physical Education before gaining a Diploma in Teaching at the Auckland College of Education. This was swiftly followed by backpacker style travel across the world; from Alaska to Chile, Kenya to South Africa and Bali overland to England, all of which enriched various teaching stints of mine, in both New Zealand and England. I have now settled down in Berkshire since joining Downe House in January 2005. I began as Housemistress of Aisholt for three years before taking time out to start a family. I was also Head of PSHE until recently and now split my time between PE and assisting with the Higher Education programme from Remove to Upper Sixth. I really enjoy my role as a Higher Education Advisor; it is hugely rewarding being

Mrs Nic Riddle Higher Education Advisor

part of the individual guidance programme supporting the girls as they plan for their future, from GCSE and A Level options to tertiary level placements. My specific roles include: organising Careers Education in Lower and Upper School, managing GCSE and A Level Options processes for UIV and UV, overseeing the Creative Applicants for whom an art portfolio or music/drama audition is required on application, the Post Qualification Applicants who apply or reapply after leaving DH, and Degree Apprenticeships for those who wish to enter the workforce immediately and gain a degree whilst earning a salary. The variety and scope of this role is endless, which makes it so interesting – never a dull moment!

In my final year at school, I took the conscious decision to defer my UCAS application and spend a year living and working in France to immerse myself in the French language and culture. At the end of the year in Paris, it became an easy choice to stay in the city for a further three years and study at the University of London Institute in Paris. By now bilingual, I completed my degree in 2017, graduating with a BA in French Studies with a Distinction in Spoken French.  My language skills, coupled with interest in pastoral education, led me to take a job as a Senior House Parent at an international boarding school in Lausanne. This afforded me the opportunity to both teach French to students from many different countries, and to support their personal development and progression.   

Miss Georgiana Oldham Higher Education Advisor

Returning to the UK, I joined the Downe House community this academic year as an Assistant Housemistress in Willis. As well as teaching French, I work alongside the other members of the Higher Education team to provide support to the students as they make their A Level choices and complete their university applications. It is a rewarding role and I am enjoying helping the girls as they take decisions about their first steps into the world of higher education.   I am also continuing my own further education, studying for an MA in Education through the University of Bath.  

My background in international travel management gave me the chance to travel the world and to deliver complete travel consultancy programmes for high profile global clients such as Mercedes Benz, Porsche, Sony and Vodafone. The role developed my organisational and management skills which opened up the opportunity for me to become a Project Manager working on the launch of a new e-commerce website for Hamleys. This expertise and experience of working in the global corporate arena have placed me in a strong position to support the HEGI team at Downe House as the Higher Education Coordinator, a role I started in 2016. My role encompasses the administration and infrastructure support of the Global Schools’ Exchange and Internship Programmes as well as all the work that the HE Department does to

Mrs Helen Knight

inform the girls about their options for higher education and support their university applications. Over the past four years, I have gained an in-depth understanding of the

Higher Education

UCAS application process and have become the UNIFROG co-ordinator. Every month,


I am responsible for producing the Higher Education Bulletin which highlights to girls and their parents the ways in which they can participate in a wide range of supercurricular activities including essay webinars, competitions, taster days, masterclasses and open days. I really enjoy being the central point of contact for the team and wider staff body, and aim for excellence in supporting the work of the HEGI team in every way that I can.

As the Global Initiatives Administrator, I help with the logistics and planning of the Global Schools’ Exchange programme. I work closely with the HEGI team, Downe House parents, exchange schools and pupils to co-ordinate the incoming and outgoing exchange trips. The Downe House exchange network has recently expanded and we now have partner schools across Asia, Europe, North America, Australasia and South Africa. I work alongside each of their Exchange Coordinators to plan each visit meticulously; from booking of flights, sorting of visas through to planning trips, activities and individual timetables. I also work closely with the host families to ensure that all sides are in communication and get to know each other before the exchanges take place. Each school offers Downe House girls a different opportunity and it is hugely rewarding

Mrs Mireille Cook Higher Education

to plan these wonderful trips and see the girls get so much from their exchange experience.

and Global Initiatives

Having both worked and studied abroad in the past, I have some appreciation of


what it is to immerse yourself in a different country and culture and the rewards that it offers! Prior to joining Downe House I worked as a Secretary in a busy veterinary practice, though my main career was in PR, as an Account Director at a global PR firm. Outside of work, I am a keen cyclist and triathlete and I coach hockey at a local hockey club.

Whoever you are... Whoever you want to be...

Be a Downe House girl.

Cold Ash, Thatcham, Berkshire RG18 9JJ T: 01635 200286 F: 01635 202026 www.downehouse.net

Downe House School



Profile for Downe House School

Meet the Higher Education and Global Initiatives Team 2020-2021  

Meet the team who make up the Downe House Higher Education and Global Initiatives department.

Meet the Higher Education and Global Initiatives Team 2020-2021  

Meet the team who make up the Downe House Higher Education and Global Initiatives department.