Heythrop College celebrates its first Dame

An alumna of Heythrop College, University of London, became the college's first Dame in the Queen's New Year Honours. Rachel de Souza achieved a BA in Philosophy and Theology at Heythrop between 1986 and 1989, and was recognised in the New Year Honours for her services to education.

Dame Rachel is Chief Executive Officer of the Inspiration Trust, a federation of seven schools across Norfolk, which specialises in raising educational standards. Before becoming the Trust's CEO, she was principal of Victory Academy in Costessey in Norwich, which Ofsted last month said had transformed into an outstanding school.

The Inspiration Trust has been responsible for turning around failing schools in Norfolk but its influence is being felt elsewhere in the United Kingdom. It took on its first school last September, and its portfolio will eventually include two free schools in its mix of institutions across East Anglia, teaching children from three to 19.

'I'm passionate about quality education,' says Dame Rachel. 'All of our schools have one simple mission - to give our children the very best education possible and the very best possible start in life. From my point of view, the focus on education in Norfolk has been on the problems, but … it's my ambition that Norfolk will one day soon lead the way in educational standards, right across the country.'

Dame Rachel studied at Heythrop as Rachel Kenny before meeting here husband, Chris who, at the time, was considering a vocation as a Jesuit. She says the news of her New Year Honour was a total surprise. 'I really wasn't expecting it … it was a real shock and then it felt great - like ten Christmases had come at once'.

Annabel Clarkson, Head of External Relations at Heythrop College, says the college was delighted that Rachel had become the college's first Dame alumna, not least because 2014 is the 400th anniversary of Heythrop's foundation by the Jesuits in Louvain (Belgium).