04 Oct 2019

Alex Hems: Head's Blog October 4 2019

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Girls' Schools in the Modern World

This is very much Open Morning season, and it has been a pleasure to welcome so many families to St George’s this week, at our events on Saturday and Wednesday. Thank you to all of you who lent us your daughters for the morning on Saturday; they were, as ever, outstanding ambassadors for the school. Writing a speech to deliver on such an occasion always brings into focus certain aspects of school life that one might otherwise take for granted, and perhaps the most obvious of those is the fact that we are a girls’ school. One is reminded that in the eyes of many we appear to be an anachronism; the world is after all, co-ed.


I would argue that far from being old-fashioned institutions in which girls are kept safe from the world, the best girls’ schools are very modern places, where talent is nurtured and girls, by growing in an environment in which nothing is closed to them because of their gender, learn to walk tall and approach the world with confidence. I have just finished reading The Making of Her by Clarissa Farr, who was High Mistress of St Paul’s Girls’ School when I worked there nine years ago. There is so much in this excellent book that resonated for me, but most particularly, in an early chapter Clarissa refers to the central role that girls’ schools play in forming the mindset of the young women emerging from them, who will, through their own behaviour and expectations of the world, work to change attitudes that still, sadly, prevail today. She argues that girls’ schools ‘have a vital and influential role to play in ensuring the continued disruption of social norms, so long established that no one even thinks of them as norms.’ I could not agree more. These are norms that are perpetuated, often unconsciously, by both men and women, and I have probably been guilty of it myself. I am conscious of the need to present girls with strong role-models, some of whom, because they often ‘women of independent minds’ themselves, they will probably choose to reject Girls’ schools, that model constantly the ‘yes she can’ message, instil in our young women a powerful self-belief which can make them each, and collectively, powerful engines for change, simply in the way in which they choose to face the world.


I see this self-belief epitomized in our senior girls and the course and career choices that they make. In Lower School, I love to see the girls playing, being children for as long as they want to be, free from gender stereotypes, but also having the chance to take steps into leadership as Champions or as members of the Student Council, where they learn to express their views with confidence. Last week, at Archerfield, St George’s and Merchiston Castle School hosted a joint event, promoting our two schools’ strong single-sex identity, and the collaboration that we are building, to support families who choose a single-sex education for their children. This is an area that the two schools will continue to work on through shared projects such as our joint drama productions and our Combined Cadet Force contingent, which we believe give our students the best of both worlds. We recognise how important it is to allow girls and boys opportunities to work together as well as to socialise, while retaining the core experience of an all-boys or all-girls education that is at the heart of what we value.

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

Read Mrs Hems Open Morning speech


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