JO Santinelli was thrilled when she got the position of the new principal at St Benedict’s Catholic College in Colchester.

Her enthusiasm bubbles over as she speaks about the staff and students she has met and her hopes for the school’s future.

She already feels an affinity to St Benedict’s, refering to “my students” and her philosophy is to do as much as she can to get the best out of them.

Mrs Santinelli is the first female head of the school, in Norman Way.

She hopes her experiences as a working mother will bring a new perspective to the job.

She said: “Society now has men and women doing all range of jobs.

“I hope there are things I will bring to this post.

“As a working mum, I can empathise with other working mums.

“I have always believed teaching is the best job in the world, a privilege.

“I love working with children, I always have done, and to have this job is great.

“I throw myself into things whole-heartedly and want to get involved in everything.”

She should fit in well in Colchester.

Her only knowledge of the town before her appointment was the castle, the former Tymperleys clock museum and the zoo, but she is a self-confessed history geek and is keen to explore the town’s rich Heritage.

She is a member of English Heritage and a supporter of the Church Conservation Trust.

Mrs Santinelli’s first spell of teaching was when she went to Italy and taught English as a foreign language.

She said: “I took a gap year in Italy after leaving university. I worked in a small school and went on to become an assistant in secondary schools.”

It was in Italy she met and fell in love with her future husband, Nello.

They moved back to England after two years and have lived here ever since.

On her return, Mrs Santinelli completed her teacher training and in 1990 got a job at Martin’s School in Hutton, Brentwood.

She moved through the ranks to become head of religious education and head of year, before moving to Chafford School, in Rainham, as assistant head in 2000.

Both schools were in urban areas with small catchment areas.

St Benedict’s Catholic College, by comparison, draws pupils from right across north Essex.

The vast majority are Catholics with some affiliated to other branches of Christianity.

A drop in the birth rate has led to spare places in Colchester secondary schools – a rare phenomenon in the current era. From September, however, the college will be full.

The college’s curriculum is, by and large, in line with other secondary schools.

However, faith is woven through it.

Mrs Santinelli, who is Catholic and a reader for the Brentwood Cathedral parish, said: “We uphold gospel values, which are intrinsically important to the Catholic world."

Mrs Santinelli does not see her role in the Catholic school as varying from her previous establishments.

She said: “There are different challenges in terms of environment, but children have the same potential wherever they go.

“They want the same things – they want to enjoy their education, they want examination success, they want friendships which will last beyond their school years and they want teachers who support, encourage and nurture them.”

Mrs Santinelli, 44, has two teenage children – Anita, 16, and Alessio, 13, who both go to Catholic schools.

Her role as a mother allows her to understand her job, both from a head’s perspective and as a parent. She said: “As a parent, I ask myself ‘Is this school good enough for my own children?’ “If the answer is no, then it is not good enough.”