Alex Hems: Head's Blog May 3 2019
One of the most inspiring experiences that I have enjoyed recently was an outstanding after-dinner speech at last week’s SCIS conference. SCIS is the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, the body which represents all of Scotland’s independent schools, provides tailored training for our staff and is a valuable source of information for anyone interested in our schools. Our speaker last Thursday evening was John Loughton, CEO of Dare2Lead, a social entrepreneur and a campaigner on behalf of young people. Coming from a background of significant disadvantage himself, he works to create opportunity and social mobility both in the UK and abroad. The most refreshing aspect of his stirring and challenging presentation was his insistence that in the acronym SCIS, it is the S for Scottish and for Schools that interest him, rather than the I for Independent. Independent schools are often vilified as socially divisive institutions. We know that across the sector time and resources are given generously to our local communities, in all sorts of ways, and the financial support that we can offer through means-tested bursaries is immensely important to us. I believe, however, that the most effective way to break down barriers is by creating opportunities for young people to work together to a common goal. His wish is to work for and with young people across Scotland, and to collaborate with the independent education sector for the greater good. His speech was a rallying cry to us all to continue to find ways in which we can all make a difference for those for whom life appears to hold very little in the way of opportunity.
Life in school is a daily reminder that very little is ever achieved if we work for too long in our own silos. The title for John Loughton’s talk drew on the traditional saying ‘It takes an entire village to raise a child,’ a crucial reminder of our dependence on one another in upholding shared expectations and values, and that raising the next generation is a social contract in which, as adults, we all participate. It is a poor education indeed that does not cultivate collaboration, the ability to work across disciplines, in teams, and also across cultures. This week we have launched our latest digital exchange, this time with SOLA, the School of Leadership Afghanistan, a school established by the extraordinary and inspiring Shabana Basij-Rasikh, about whom I have spoken to the girls often in assemblies. Our Lower 4 and Upper 4 girls will have the chance to talk to girls in Afghanistan about their daily lives in their boarding school, share the common experiences of growing up, and learn from them about the challenges that they have faced in securing an education. Shabana Basij-Rasikh herself is a shining example of a person who has worked across cultures with great courage, seeing possibilities and navigating the obstacles as she set up her school while still in her early twenties, specifically to provide education for girls in her country. I am sure that our students will find this inspiring. Of course one does not need to look thousands of miles away to find needs which should be a call to action, and later this month, all of Upper 4 will be involved in local community outreach work during their Enrichment Week, a new venture for us. Through the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme and the Youth Philanthropy initiative our students grow their understanding of the needs of those close to home and can become actively involved in making a difference. I hope that we can indeed inspire a new generation to genuine collaboration.
Mrs Alex Hems MA Oxon
Head, St George's School for Girls, Edinburgh