■ The Bake Off star on using cake to teach coastal erosion and how her pupils could give Prue and Paul a run for their money
You’re a geography teacher. Presumably you didn’t hate your school days?
I absolutely loved them and that’s partly why I became a teacher — it helps when I’m tired or having a busy day to remember the difference teachers have made to my life.
Did you always know you wanted to teach?
I was one of those people who never really knew. I was into athletics and used to train four times a week and compete at weekends but then I had a big operation for scoliosis as a teenager so turned to the arts. Even after I left Durham University with a degree in geography I didn’t really know
How did you see the light?
After uni I found a really interesting job — a non-teaching pastoral job as head of year in a school. I absolutely loved it — it was very challenging and I was thrown in at the deep end dealing with bullying, child protection and supporting children. After the year’s contract ended, I went to work for a charity in an office but really missed the school environment. So I followed the PGCE route into teaching. I started teaching geography at an all boys’ school in central London in September 2018.
You must like a challenge because almost immediately you applied for The Great British Bake Off!
I’d applied before and not got on so I applied again not really thinking they’d accept me but they did. It was too good to turn down. I only told my department and head, who were very supportive, but I think the students knew something was up because I was doing a lot of baking and didn’t want it to go to waste so I’d take it into school. The pupils were asking why I was making 100 varieties of hot cross bun! I look back and wonder how I coped but it was an amazing opportunity and I had to throw everything into it.
How did you find it?
I was baking until midnight every night and the adrenaline just kicked in. It’s filmed at weekends and it was broadcast just before school started. The students came back the day after I won star baker and when I walked into my new form room, everyone applauded me — they were so excited, making things at home and bringing them in for me to taste. Over the weeks they loved giving me feedback and they didn’t hold back — especially on weeks where I just scraped through! There were a couple of boys just bursting to tell me I wasn’t that great the night before. Some just don’t have a filter!
Are you now the go-to teacher for every bake sale and birthday cake?
We actually have a Bake Off at my school in which we raise money for charity, which existed long before I joined. I’m banned from entering!
We hear you’re not averse to using baking in lessons?
I’ve been known to bake cakes for my lessons — although once the students found out, they started asking for it every lesson! There are lots of geographical processes that can be quite difficult to make exciting, so baking makes it more visual and helps students to remember. I teach a lesson on coastal erosion with angel cake where we look at different colours, different resistance in rocks, how erosion processes take place. It makes it more engaging.
‘While training there will be tough times, when you question if you’re doing the right thing. Always seek support — I was stunned by how much there was’
Salary: You can receive a £26,000 bursary to train as a teacher and newly qualified teachers start on a minimum salary of £24,000 to £30,000 depending on location
Regular hours? Yes, and long holidays. But you’ll have to give up some evenings for marking and lesson preparation
Short and sweet advice: There are many ways to train — pick the one that’s right for you