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07 Sep 2018

Alex Hems: Head's Blog Sept 7, 2018

A2.SMY AlexHems096 Crop 250wHow do we measure success? 

The start of a new session can be both exciting and slightly daunting. New pencil cases and stationery, pristine jotters and perhaps a brand new uniform all have so much promise about them. Making friends, an unfamiliar building and the thought of having more homework might cause a knot in the stomach. I hope that our new students are starting to feel settled now; it has been so good to hear that they are joining clubs and starting to find their way into school life. In my opening assemblies I reminded the school that the year is ours, to form through the choices that we make, the approach we bring to its challenges and the energy that we put into it.

The term is certainly off to an energetic start. With a full programme of hockey fixtures last weekend and more to come tomorrow, it was good to see so many girls from Primary 6 to Upper 6 enjoying sport, and also to see their supporters enjoying hot rolls and coffee in the Everest Pavilion for the first time. Inevitably some come off the pitch glowing with the triumph of victory, and while other score-lines give less cause for celebration. The lessons and values that are learned through taking part in sport, from winning, and certainly from losing, are, I hope ones which will stay with them for life: determination to bounce back after a disappointment; self-discipline; respect for the skills and contribution of one’s teammates for example. Of course we all love to win and we should strive to improve through practice and reflection, but school is also a place to learn that success is not always and only about winning. We encourage girls to measure achievement against the targets that they set for themselves, to set themselves high personal standards and to reflect on their own progress.

It has been such a pleasure to welcome back some of the leavers of 2017, who have been in school to speak to our current Upper Six about their experiences of university and gap years. The academic successes that we celebrated when the public examination results came in a few weeks ago provide our students with the passports to the next stage of their lives and it is always so encouraging to hear what they make of those opportunities when they leave. Over the next few days and weeks members of the class of 2018 will be starting out on their university careers in Cambridge, Toronto, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, St Andrews, Bristol, Dundee, London, Exeter, Hong Kong.... We look forward to hearing about their experiences in a year's time.

We are very excited to have the opportunity to hear Judy Murray interviewing multi Grand Slam winning Judy Dalton at St George’s on 25th September. Judy Dalton’s achievements on court are impressive, but it will be equally inspiring to hear about the campaign that she has fought throughout her career to promote equality of pay for women and girls in sport, a fight which is certainly not won yet. We pride ourselves on cultivating a ‘can-do’ approach and on helping our girls to believe in themselves, but a reminder that it may take many years of hard work to achieve our goals is salutary in an age when instant gratification is becoming the expectation.

In the first week of term thirty nine members of the Upper Six were in the Cairngorms completing their Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expedition, and this weekend members of the Lower Sixth are in the Trossachs for their Silver expeditions. I wish them warm nights and dry feet. The school’s achievements in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award were described to me as ‘sector-leading’ this week, which made me very proud on behalf of Mrs Mushat and all the girls from Lower 5 upwards who take up the challenge every year. Although it is always the expedition that first springs to mind when ‘D of E’ is mentioned, and I am sure that this is the section that is most daunting, it is the requirement to take part in between three months and a year of volunteering, depending on the level, which always strikes me as the most important for the girls' development. It requires reliability and reminds young people of the value of giving time rather than money, encourages them to be patient and may help them to appreciate the rewards that come not from publicly recognised achievements, but from quietly listening and giving of oneself. 

I hope that the rich and varied experiences that we can make available at school though the co-curriculum and in the classroom allow our students to understand that success comes in many guises, and does not always take the form that we first imagine it might. Across the school clubs and activities are underway again; rehearsals have started for The Tempest and Beauty and the Beast; new cadets are joining the CCF; orchestras and choirs are practising and at GCSE, Higher and Advanced Higher girls are beginning new courses. I hope that this new school year brings many shared and individual successes, and that everyone at St George’s will have the joy of surprising herself by achieving something of which she had not previously believed herself capable.

Mrs Alex Hems MA Oxon

Head, St George's School for Girls, Edinburgh

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