05 Oct 2018

Alex Hems: Head's Blog Oct 5, 2018

A2.SMY AlexHems096 Crop 250wFor St George's this has been a week of celebrating the best of our history while looking ahead to consider how the commitment of our founders has meaning for girls and young women today. 

Founders' Day on Wednesday was St George's at its best. We saw creativity, curiosity, willingness to take on a challenge, and plenty of fun. I spoke in Upper School Assembly about Miss Walker, our first Headmistress, who was remembered with affection, respect and pride by those who knew her. She must have been possessed of indomitable courage and determination to take on the position when Headmasters of the time were known to refer to female teachers as 'feckless amateurs'! Gentle, kind and patient, she was nonetheless utterly committed to her beliefs and had the foresight to move the school to its current site, thus allowing it to expand into the school that we know.

I hope our girls today feel some pride in being part of such a strong tradition of belief in women's education. Our founders had determination and they had vision – for something greater than themselves. This week a fellow Head has spoken out against the image-obsessed culture of programmes such as Love Island, which create a sense that only the beautiful body is worthy of love. To me it is the idealisation of something so essentially hollow that I see as degrading and limiting. The trivialisation of human relationships in this context seems likely to erode any young person’s values if this is their only frame of reference. The prevalence of such misleading but powerful messaging makes the role-modelling that we as teachers and parents do so important in helping our daughters to maintain perspective in their lives. I was heartened when eating lunch with members of the Upper Sixth this week when they told me how comfortable they are starting to feel with themselves as they grow towards the end of their school career. One spoke of no longer feeling that she needs to wear make-up at school, which had not been the case before she came to St George's and others agreed. They appreciate the relative lack of self-consciousness and the freedom to be themselves that they find here because it is a girls' school. I have enjoyed finding out about the diverse range of courses that they are all planning to apply for - from Physics to Fashion, Medicine to Marketing. Drama and the creative arts are clearly popular this year, but so are Law, Psychology and the social sciences. I felt that Miss Walker would have been proud of them.

It was precisely for this freedom of choice for young women that our founders strove so hard in the nineteenth century. Our world today has so many messages for young women about what is expected of them: professional career builder; caring parent; snappy dresser; star baker; sportswoman, and all come with their own set of value judgements attached. Our job is to help them to grow a sense of perspective, to build the self-belief that they need to navigate an image-intense world and to recognise that their strength lies in being themselves.

Mrs Alex Hems MA Oxon
Head, St George's School for Girls, Edinburgh

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