A girl from Bootle from a family of nurses, there was perhaps an expectation on Rachael that she would follow her mum, nan and uncle into that profession, but a fear of blood set her off on a different career path.
She loved playing sport as a child, but not much else when it came to school, however it was her own inspirational teacher, Penny Beard, who made her realise that she also wanted to work in education.
Rachael knew she needed certain qualifications to go to university to then become a teacher, but she failed her A-levels. Despite this, she was still determined to get to university, not only to realise her ambition of becoming a teacher but because she was told just what an amazing experience it is. So, she went to Hugh Baird College and managed to gain two A-levels in a year, allowing her to progress to university with LJMU, studying at the IM March campus, just as Penny Beard had done.
After completing her degree in Physical Education Sport and Dance, taught by our very own PVC Professor Phil Vickerman while she was a student, Rachael took up her first job within a pupil referral unit in Birkenhead. This is where she says she really learnt her craft.
“I picked up so much experience and knowledge of challenging situations, pre-empting them so that they didn’t happen in the first place and when they did arise, how to tackle and deal with them.”
She then took a totally opposite role working in an all-girls Catholic school. Rachael admits that during her first year in the role she wasn't always in school desperately early, but her head of department set high expectations. This became a bit of a wakeup call. “I made it my life’s mission to make sure that she thought I was the best thing since sliced bread.” That moment lit the fire within Rachael to be the best she possibly could be.
After that she went into post-16 education working in Blackpool, Blackburn and Calderdale, all the while still living in Liverpool.
“I’ve worked with some amazing people which is why I’ve stayed in education. And I love working in colleges, it’s exactly why I'm in education. Just to make sure that students get the best skills, to get better jobs and better lives.”
– Rachael Hennigan
She became Principal and Chief Executive at Hugh Baird College in February 2020, just weeks before the global pandemic unexpectedly brought massive challenges for leaders working in education worldwide. Despite these early hurdles, Rachael is going from strength to strength in her first Principal role, right back where it all started for her, at the very college where she once studied.
“We have one sole goal - that a student comes in and we teach them something they didn’t know that will help them get a better life. That better quality of life could mean a better car, a better house or to be able to take their family on holiday, and I think when I witness that activity across this college, that’s what inspires us, and that’s exactly why we do it.”
She has overall responsibility for the strategic direction of the college. She is passionate about ensuring students develop relevant knowledge and skills that will enable them to progress in the future and about widening access to further education and helping her home city to thrive.