From our Head of Preschool & Junior School
As I draw to the close of my first year as Head of Juniors at St Mary’s, it is a good time to reflect upon the year, and particularly upon how my first year has matched up to my early vision of the school.
Upon joining St Mary’s I knew it to be an excellent school already; the culture, the hard work and successes, not to mention external results were testament to that, amongst many other things. What else did I know about the school? I knew that it was one of many schools worldwide that are Mary Ward Schools, places built upon Mary Ward’s values and her characteristics. Mary Ward recognised the critical difference that education could make to the troubled world, especially through the care and development of faith. She believed “Women in time to come will do much.” This vision continues to inspire our girls to ‘do much’ – to aim high, not just academically - but to become confident, compassionate young women who play a positive role in society. Her characteristics included promoting truth, justice, freedom and sincerity; celebrating diversity; encouraging hard work and excellence; respecting self; valuing women’s role and spirituality; supporting each other; valuing friendship; and coping with failure, amongst others.
These characteristics would sit well in any self-respecting school today, never mind within one of the network of 200 Mary Ward schools worldwide. They, unwittingly, and without special desire, have formed the backbone of almost every assembly I have led this year, each lesson, and the reasoning behind every weekly continuous professional development (CPD) meeting we have held as a staff: robust in their timeless common sense and good meaning.
Not only this, but both ISI and Diocesan Inspectors shared their delight that our girls conveyed these characteristics in their discussions about the school, in an articulate and intelligent manner.
I must then remind the reader that we are a High Performance Learning (HPL) school. Again, part of a global network of like-minded institutions who wholeheartedly believe in the importance of not just learning in school, but in learning to learn, in metacognition: we equip our pupils with (evidence-based) cognitive skills and essential values, attitudes and attributes that they will need for lifelong success.
It is about empowering individuals to be able to grow without barriers to learning. Indeed, learners need not only the knowledge, skills and understanding, but also the dispositions which will enable them to succeed in the future in their career or careers, in roles we know that may not yet exist. Like the most successful organisms in the plant and animal kingdoms, those who try new things, test things out, are adaptive and not too specific are often those who thrive and are the most successful.
I believe that our girls are learning through not only an exciting curriculum, but also are doing so through a supportive, adaptive framework that we have created especially for our Junior School, ensuring a thorough progression of academic skills and personal development.
It has, therefore, been thoroughly exciting to not only welcome new girls to St Mary’s this year, but also to open up into a (relatively) normal school year, post the years of Covid-related disruption. For a 3-year-old, a 7-year-old and a 10-year-old child, there has inevitably been an impact to a degree in the usual social experiences available to them, academics aside. (Two years of mixed learning (remote, blended, or in school) when you are in Year 3 (for example) is 50% of your school life).
Our Preschool and Junior School girls though have embraced this year with open arms and thrown themselves into every opportunity afforded them. They have been exemplary in their attitude and of taking the opportunities given to them. There have been so many firsts; the Summer Concert at West Road, the Sports Days at Long Road, the drama productions (The Nativity, Peter Pan, The Tempest and the French Musical), the three residentials and the local trips (far too many to mention individually)!
All of our girls have stepped up, and have not necessarily been afforded the benefit of seeing their older peers pave the way previously. To say that I am proud to be the Head of Juniors is an understatement; these girls are incredible in their attitude to school and learning. Curious, independent, resilient, hardworking, reflective, kind and keen to be challenged to think, not afraid to make mistakes but rather, would prefer to have tried and got it wrong than not tried at all.
Looking ahead to next year fills me with excitement that I have a school filled with teachers and girls alike who work so well together for the common good. Our girls can’t help but make progress every single day, and they are happy and confident too.
We have the STEM Lab now up and running, and every girl will benefit from this. We have our Pre-School starting its second year, booming! Girls have more opportunities for outdoor learning, more leadership opportunities, and their pupil voice is heard by all upon matters of importance to them. I am proud of the work of the Eco Council and Faith Council and we are excited about other new groups in the planning…
So, how has the experience of my first year matched up to my early vision of the school? I’d say, on reflection, it gets 10/10 for not only living up to expectations but surpassing them beyond expectations. What a school!
Jo Christian, Head of Preschool & Junior School
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