Our Highest Intellectual Potential (HIP) Programme, seen from two very different viewpoints

To give you an accurate understanding of our unique HIP programme, we wanted to present you with a truly balanced view. So, we sat down and interviewed a teacher, otherwise known as a HIP mentor, and also one of our students so you could understand the merits and challenges of the programme from both sides.

Sanaz Thomas is a chemistry teacher in our Senior School, and a specialist mentor for students in the HIP Programme, while Hannah is one of our Year 13 HIP mentees. We asked them a number of searching questions and here are their answers side-by-side:

What makes this programme so different?

Sanaz (Mentor): There is no other school which runs anything like the HIP Programme we have at St Helen’s. It is only the wealth of expertise which the staff here have that enables us to deliver this sort of programme to the highest of standards, giving our students a unique education.”

Hannah (Student): This is learning with a difference. Not only do I feel that my academic knowledge has broadened thanks to the HIP Programme, but I have found it an immensely enjoyable way to spend time with like-minded people. Outside of academics, we can try different things, join new clubs. You can always stop if you don’t enjoy it, but if you don’t try, you could be missing out.“

What’s the biggest strength of the programme?

Sanaz (Mentor): Students are consistently encouraged to ask probing questions which go beyond the scope of any specification. They are trained not to take anything at face value and to dig deeper using their intellectual flexibility.”

Hannah (Student): The HIP Programme has provided a space for me to discuss subjects I am fascinated with, alongside people who are equally interested and often know things which I don’t. Even if you never use what you’ve learnt, it will have enriched your understanding and will, nine times out of ten, increase your enjoyment of a subject.”

Why does this style of learning work so well?

Sanaz (Mentor): We are presenting the students with a safe platform to leave their comfort zone. The environment is one which credits those students who have the desire and passion to be curious, without apology, and who are willing to take risks.”

Hannah (Student): We learn from each other, inspire each other’s curiosity, and simply enjoy discussions without the pressure of knowing that we will have an exam on the content at some stage.”

How does the programme teach students to think in new ways?

Sanaz (Mentor): The programme promotes independent learning skills. We don’t tell the student what to do or what is best for them, but actually guide them in considering their options so that they can decide on which actions they are going to take.  All of which is integral for a positive future.”

Hannah (Student): Sometimes it can feel as if every stage of school is working towards the next exam, but that doesn’t need to be all that learning is about. Read beyond your syllabus, ask questions even if you don’t need to know the answer, never stop being curious about why things are the way they are.”

How does the programme prepare students for life after school?

Sanaz (Mentor): The coaching dynamic is an extremely powerful tool for nurturing pastoral care. It guides the student to reflect on their own behaviours and helps develop lasting strength of character. It also builds resilience which can foster high levels of self-belief.”


Hannah (Student): The HIP Programme has taught me that learning doesn’t always have to be by the book. We’ve learned to think for ourselves, not just repeat what others have thought in the past.”

We’d like to thank both Sanaz and Hannah for taking the time to chat with us. We aim to give every girl an excellent, well-balanced education, developing her intellectual, creative and physical abilities to the full. We devote time, energy and imagination to ensure that the education we provide enables all students to fulfil their potential.

The HIP Programme is just one example of our unique teaching approach, designed to bring out the best in everyone.