Alex Hems: Head's Blog June 7 2019
I have just been spending the evening with St George’s Alumnae in London at a lively reunion at the Caledonian Club. As ever when I meet former students of the school I am impressed by the diversity in the routes that their lives have taken. Amongst those gathering last night were a retired army officer, a chartered surveyor, an architect, a BBC political journalist, a trainee clinical psychologist, a management consultant and a retired headmistress. Some were only a few years into their careers and others very much enjoying retirement. It was wonderful to hear talk of a 50 Years On reunion being planned, and requests for more alumnae events in general.
A chance encounter over Easter brought me into contact with an inspiring young woman who is passionate about enabling talented people, men as well as women, to work flexibly at a high level in all sorts of fields. Her organisation helps to place people within companies which have embraced the concept of flexible working and see the benefits of bringing committed, highly motivated, experienced individuals back into the work place on a part time or flexible basis. For some this may mean the opportunity to work from home, or to incorporate school drop-offs into their daily pattern; some may be caring for elderly relatives or young children but still have much to give professionally. Others, perhaps at an earlier stage in their careers may have a number of possible projects that they are exploring, none of which is yet a full-time occupation, or, at the other end of their working lives there will be those who wish to balance professional life with volunteering in their local communities. Annie Auerbach’s recently released book Flex, addresses the issue of flexible working and what is necessary both in the workplace and in the home to make it successful. This is the landscape that our girls will be navigating as they move through their careers, and which our alumnae gathered in London last night are making their own.
On Wednesday our Lower Sixth students had their Lifelong Learning conference, which is designed to open their eyes to the variety of routes that are available to them, for which they will need to start to prepare. I am delighted that, in addition to contributions from higher education and employers, they also heard about the opportunities that Degree Apprenticeships can offer them, to achieve qualifications at the same time as gaining hands-on experience of working life with some of the UK’s top employers. In the evening Lower Sixth parents heard from the Sixth Form team and from members of the Upper Sixth about the support that we put in place in school to guide the girls through their applications in the coming year. It was heartening to hear from the girls themselves about the variety of courses and destinations that they have chosen, and to hear how discerning they are in identifying reasons for making their choices.
I am delighted that through the work of our Foundation Office, and with the generous support of the Old Girls’ Association, we have been able to launch Network St G’s this year, a network for life for all our students, which will enable them to connect with others across generations of St George’s leavers, to offer support, seek mentoring and advice and also to give back to the current school community. Women need one another in the workplace; we need to set an example by embracing flexibility where we can, striking the balance of course between the needs of the organisation of those of the employee. When I returned to work full time, entrusting our small children to my husband’s excellent care, my fiercest critics were other women, who were not slow to hint that I might be less of a mother for making that choice. Apart from my husband, other women have also been my most loyal supporters. We will all find our own routes through life. It is increasingly clear that these routes will be much less linear than many career paths have been hitherto, which is in itself very exciting, but raises other challenges, and I am so glad that St George’s girls have a network of potential support to draw upon at any stage in their future journeys.
Mrs Alex Hems MA Oxon
Head, St George's School for Girls, Edinburgh