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A summary of another successful year for our Junior School

A summary of another successful year for our Junior School

This year we have celebrated our 120th anniversary. As I stood making my speech at Prize Giving looking out at all our Junior School girls I cast my mind back to the very inception of St Mary’s, Cambridge in Furness Lodge on Parker’s Piece in 1898 when the school started with just two little girls: Daisy, aged 5 and Dorothy, aged 8, two sisters from Chesterton. I wonder what little Daisy and Dorothy would think today of our beautiful school here on Chaucer Road, a happy place full of learning and enrichment. So different to the small and austere beginning of St Mary’s Cambridge all that time ago. I would like to think that the founding CJ sisters, and Dorothy and Daisy particularly, would delight in the school today, a thriving community being educated in the Mary Ward tradition of 400 hundred years, drawing inspiration from the past but very much focused on the future.  

One day for me stood out this year and that was our annual Mary Ward Day celebration on 23 January. The day focused on our focus Mary Ward value, ‘stopping Injustice’. Each class focused on a ‘Rebel Girl’ who had dedicated their life to stopping injustice and produced a collective piece of work to showcase in Acton Hall at the end of the day. Alongside this each girl dressed up as their favourite Rebel Girl for a special Mary Ward birthday tea party with 120th anniversary cupcakes and lemonade. The tea party was a sight to behold, Coco Chanel sat next to Frieda Kahlo who was sat next to Amelia Earhart. At the end of the day we were joined by parents to give three cheers to Mary Ward!    

This year the message #yesshecan has resonated deeply with our girls, many have even taken ownership of the twitter tag, on occasion staff, and parents, have had it quoted back to them to reinforce their will or determination.  

At St Mary’s can your daughter achieve highly in her learning?  

We were delighted to be able to announce several weeks ago that St Mary’s is now an official High Performance Learning school, we have been commended for fully embracing,both HPL as a transformational addition for staff and girls at St Mary’s,and also as a global movement for change in education. This approach to teaching and learning is already showing great results in the girls’ engagement with their learning and in the teachers' approach to lesson planning.  

We continue to promote a rich and varied creative curriculum, topics studied this year included Beatrix Potter, the Stone Age, Brazil, Inspirational Women and WWI to name but a few, with trips to enrich the girls’ learning to places such as the Space Centre, the V&A, Cambridge University’s Engineering Department and Wimpole Hall.  

In standardised assessments our girls consistently achieve above the national average and girls in the Senior School go onto study courses such as, Physics at Oxford; Music at Cambridge and Chemical Engineering at Imperial.  

However, life is not just about passing exams, we strongly feel that our creative curriculum which brings subjects together under the umbrella of one topic prepares the girls for the future world of work where, to quote the OECD 2018 report into the future of education and skills, “the capacity to think across the boundaries of disciplines and ‘connect the dots’” is vitally important for future success.  

This year one of our focus Mary Ward values has been ‘hard work and excellence’ so in answer to the question I posed previously, ‘at St Mary’s can your daughter achieve highly in her learning’, Ianswer, emphatically yesshecan!  

At St Mary’s will your daughter be inspired to learn more about the world and contribute to it as a force for good?  

At the beginning of the Autumn term Cambridge holds a Festival of Ideas. This year we ambitiously hosted our own St Mary’s Junior School Festival of Ideas, we were lucky enough to have speakers in assembly on the future of artificial intelligence, building complex bridge structures and curing diseases.  Each assembly focused on a problem and looked for a possible future solution. As this generation is faced with a climate crisis and the prospect of more severe weather and scarce resources, I think it’s vitally important to engage children in thinking about future solutions and current action. This year our Eco-Council ran a ‘non-single use plastics’ week in which girls were encouraged think about their plastic usage athome and in school. We also sold a St Mary’s cloth bag with the St Mary’s eco winning design by Aria in Year 1.   

Just last week we also held an Eco-fundraising day jointly with the Eco- and School- Councils. The Eco-Council led a sponsored silence, to reflect the fact that nature has no voice and the Student Council ran a clothes swap in the light of what they learnt about fast fashion in one of their meetings. On that week we chose ‘climate change’ as the word(s) of the week and in my Monday Head’s Assembly we watched a video of Greta Thunberg’s speech to the UN Climate Change Conference in 2018. Her message resonated deeply with the girls, two sentences most particularly, that ‘you are never too small to make a difference’ and ‘not to care about being popular but to care about climatejustice’. I commend the great work of the Eco-Council, but I know as a school we need to do more in the area of climate change, and I am encouraged that it is the girls who are leading the way!  

We have continued this year to sponsor Hani in Ethiopia, we have now extended this to support her school more widely and we are blessed to have our former teacher, Jane Hunt, still part of our community and willing to come into school to deliver her inspiringassemblies about Hani, her school and the community in Addis Ababba. 

Our Loreto sister schools often speak about ‘giving a voice to the voiceless’ and it is this message which I would like Year 6 to take with them when they leave the Junior School. Our girls are privileged, with their privilege comes a responsibility and I am constantlyreassured through their words and deeds that they will meet this social responsibility beyond their Junior School lives.  

It is therefore most appropriate that our second Mary Ward focus value this year has been ‘stopping injustice’.  

Will your daughter be inspired to learn more about the world and contribute to it as a force for good? I answer, without hesitation, yesshecan

At St Mary’s will your daughter thrive and achieve in sports? 

Under the leadership of our new Junior School Head of Sports, Ms. Cindy O’Connell this has been an excellent year of sport. This year we have competed in a record number of fixtures against local schools. For the first time two under 8 teams competed in a Netball Festival and our older girls achieved well also, most notably the under 10 A team won all their matches at a tournament at St Faith’s. We have also competed more on a regional level, through the CambridgeshireCross Country Relay Championships and the IAPS Athletics event at Bedford Athletics stadium.  

Last week we enjoyed another very successful Sport’s Day at Wilberforce Road, two records were broken but most importantly every girl had the opportunity to take part, enjoy and cheer on their House!  

We move into next academic year with a great sense of excitement about sports at St Mary’s with thedevelopment of our new outstanding sports facility on Long Road in partnership with Homerton College!  

At St Mary’s will your daughter thrive and achieve in sports? With conviction, yesshecan!  

At St Mary’s will your daughter have opportunities to express herself through the Creative Arts?  

Parents and friends of the school recently watched the performances of Anthony and Cleopatra. As always, the girls rose to the occasion and put on a fantastic performance, their mature and emotional performance belying their young ages. The Year 5 & 6 Shakespeare in the Garden production has become a highlight of the Junior School’s summer calendar preceding the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival by several weeks and, in my opinion, rivalling the quality of the Cambridge Festival’s performances!  

In the spring term we were treated to an hilarious production of ‘Rock Bottom’ by Years 3 & 4. The comic timing of the girls was superb, and the family audiences struggled night after night to keep their laughing under control.   

Our unique Pre-prep nativity this year was based on the theme of ‘Once Upon a Time...’. It was a magical journey through time with the constant ticking of the clock with mature performances from our youngest members of the school community.  

Alongside our rich calendar of drama performances runs a very busy music calendar, from the termly Tea-Time Concerts, this year with a record number of individual performances, to the very special Carol Service before Christmas and finally the wonderful culmination of a year's work in the Summer Concert in May. Miss Hickey’s music department nurtures the musical talents of the girls incredibly well so that each and every girl reaches their potential and the girls share their talents, to our delight and enjoyment, in the various performances.  

This year we welcomed our very first ‘Artist in Residence’ to the Junior School. Emily Kew’s vision of a specialist Art teaching space has been realised in our new Art Room in the Coach House. Emily has also worked on several Art projects with the new Arts Council, including for Ely Cathedral’s space themed schools’ art festival and our Summer Exhibition in the style of the Royal Academy, to be opened after this ceremony in the new Art Room.  

At St Mary’s will your daughter have opportunities to express herself through the Creative Arts? I answer, resoundingly yesshecan!  

At St Mary’s will your daughter be exposed to STEM subjects and encouraged to think of STEM as a possible career path as a woman?  

Our relationship with the Royal Academy of Engineering and the University’s Institute of Manufacturing goes from strength to strength. This year we have hosted two STEM outreach days with our Year 5 girls and those from local primary schools. We are a STEM.org ambassador school and we are becoming known for promoting girls in STEM, we hope next year to enter into a more formal relationship with the Institute for Manufacturing which will cement our reputation for excellence in this area! Moreover, Mrs. Shercliff’s STEM lessons have evolved this year so that each year group has an off-timetable STEM Skills Day to develop their design and technology skills.  

In the area of Computer Science, we now compete at a European level, our team of Year 6 girls in June competed against much older, mostly male, teams from around Europe in the Robocup European Championships in Hannover and with grit, skill and St Mary’s determination came 8th in Europe! To add to this triumph our Year 5 and Year 6 girls are respective national champions in Robocup. 

We can confidently say that we lead the country in robotics and coding at the Prep level and I think it’s important to note that GIRLS are leading the way!  

At St Mary’s will your daughter be exposed to STEM subjects and encouraged to think of STEM as a possible career path as a woman? I think we can answer this with great pride yesshecan!  

This summer we say a fond farewell to our Year 6 girls. At the end of term we reflected on their time in the Junior School in their Leavers Assembly. We all enjoyed sharing in their memories, both individual and collective. These are special memories that they will carry with them through their lives and I hope reflect upon happily together as adults.  

We also marked the end of the first year of school for our Reception children, we are all so proud in their first year!  

As I reflect on the past year, I feel there have been many blessings. We give thanks for what has been done and look forward to next year full of hope and optimism, even more now so as we only found out this week that we have been shortlisted for an Independent School of the Year Award alongside schools such as Brighton College, Cheltenham College and Roedean!  

Matthew O’Reilly 

Head of St Mary's Junior School