18 Jan 2019

Alex Hems: Head's Blog Jan 18, 2019

A2.SMY AlexHems096 Crop 250wI am often asked whether the unique blend of Scottish and English examination courses that we run at St George’s is fully recognised by universities, and also whether we see signs of prejudice against independent schools through the admissions system. I am always delighted to answer a resounding yes to the first question and no to the second. We learned on Monday that two St George’s girls have offers from Pembroke College, Cambridge, one to study Medicine and the other for Law. Their hard work, and the passion that they have for their chosen subjects as academic disciplines, have earned them these offers, and we are very proud of them. In any competitive process, however, there will be others who are not successful, and we commiserate with their classmates who did not receive offers or were not called to interview. On average 90% of our students gain places at their first choice universities when their results are published in the summer. With several months still to go before we would expect to have all offers in, it was good to see, as I looked through the list today, that our students' combination of GCSEs and strong Higher grades could gain them places later this year at top universities across the UK. They are applying for an impressively diverse range of courses, from the traditional Law, Medicine, Dentistry, English, History, Languages and Chemistry, to the highly sought after and specialised Sport and Exercise Science at Loughborough, Web Design, Drama, Physics with Astrophysics and Interior Design. It is good to see how many seek a degree course that will include a year of study abroad, an invaluable experience which could transform future employment opportunities.  Indeed our students regularly apply successfully to universities across the world for their undergraduate degrees.

The wider educational question of how best to widen access to education, training and skills across the UK remains a pressing one. While the national debate has, for obvious reasons focused on the issue of Brexit in recent months, our education system is surely a key part of our future economic prosperity, creating opportunities for social mobility for individuals and improving the wellbeing of those in our most deprived communities. It has long seemed to me that access to university alone is not necessarily the answer.  More focus is needed on early years and primary education, to ensure that as many of our young people as possible are able to make the most of every stage of their education at school level, and then to progress to the most appropriate route, whether that is university, apprenticeship, degree apprenticeship, college or employment. I would hope that Britain’s excellent independent schools, which are admired worldwide for the opportunities that they offer, can play a significant role in continuing to promote excellence in education, not only for our own students of course, but by sharing good practice, facilities, resources and training with colleagues and students in their own communities. This is something that I know we in the independent sector already do, although frustratingly that is not always readily acknowledged. That is a subject for another day, however.

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

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