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Looking back on our 120th year

Looking back on our 120th year
Headmistress Charlotte Avery looks back at the school's 120th year.

This year we have been celebrating the school’s 120th anniversary, taking strength from the striking vision of our foundress, Mary Ward, who, over 400 years ago, notably envisaged that, ‘By God’s grace, women in time to come will do much.’ We celebrate, with gratitude, just how much our girls have achievement in the past year and wish God-speed to our Upper Sixth students as they embark on university courses or GAP years. Today’s celebrations are the substance behind our ‘#YesSheCan’ messaging in this anniversary year.

We are delighted to have been awarded the status of High Performance Learning World Class School. We have been commended for so 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 learning is already showing some good results for our students - both in terms of their academic achievements but also in respect of their self-belief and readiness for future life.

At St Mary’s, can your daughter can be her best self through service and fund-raising?

'Working to Eliminate Injustice' is one of the Mary Ward characteristics on which we have been focusing this year. The Sixth Form Prefect Team raised awareness about Period Poverty; part of their action was to collect 120 boxes of tampons/sanitary products for the YMCA and housing projects in Cambridge; they exceeded their target. The Cambridge City Foodbank received generous contributions of food and other items from several year groups and staff. Students sent Christmas Shoe Boxes with presents for disadvantaged children. Year 11 wrote 120 Christmas cards with greetings and good wishes to be sent to refugees being helped by the Jesuit Refugee Service in London, patients at the East Anglia Children's Hospices, projects and shelters supporting the homeless at Christmas, children at the Mary Ward Children's Home in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe, and at the Holy Family Orphanage in Bethlehem. Our Head Boarder and Prefects organised an inaugural Afternoon Tea Party including entertainment for the residents of the neighbouring alms houses, their Warden and Trustees. The newly appointed Boarding Prefects did a sterling job organizing the party and decorating the house, and even made beautiful place settings. We anticipate the Senior School charity fundraising total for the year to be approximately £1,500. Donations have been made to support: the building of the Mary Ward School in Mbizo, Zimbabwe; the Glanfield Children's Group pilgrimage; Children in Need; Save the Children; Toms Trust; Breast Cancer Now; SENSE and CAFOD. Clearly, the answer is ‘#YesSheCan’.

At St Mary’s, can your daughter be her best self through leadership?

Sixth Form students completed the CAFOD Young Leaders Programme last June and our next quartet have embarked on training on development issues, presentation and campaigning skills, and taking a lead in raising awareness and planning events in school. Our revivified Environment Committee has written an Eco-Code which imaginatively demonstrates the school’s commitment to improving its environmental performance. Girls have enlisted: Chris, our Gardener, to put up bird boxes (made by Eric from the Works team) and create insect-friendly wildflower spaces in the garden; Charlie, our Head Caterer, and Greg, our Operations Manager, to remove single use plastic cups, bowls and takeaway boxes from catering and provide recycling boxes. Upper School Debating Club now meets weekly; our TEDEd Student Talks Club has been ably initiated by Marina B. R., Lila R. and Rajoshee C.. Gold Duke of Edinburgh Awards have been earned by Helena L., Annie T., Alice S., Coco C., Emily B. G., Niamh McN. and Aislin McL.. Sixth Formers, Olivia R. and Hannah T. are part of the first cohort of DofE Ambassadors in Cambridgeshire: Olivia will be supporting at Bronze and Hannah at Silver level. It will come as no surprise that ‘#YesSheCan’!

At St Mary’s, can your daughter be her best self through scholarship and academic study?

Our results in public examination results bear testament to outstanding teaching and innovative learning opportunities. Last summer, 45% of grades were A* or A at A Level and we achieved our best-ever top grades at GCSE with 40% of grades at A*/9/8. These results are remarkable given our relatively non-selective entry. Last summer, Sixth Form girls achieved outstanding university offers: Physics at Oxford; Music at Cambridge; Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Mathematics at Imperial; Politics and International Relations at Bath; History at Warwick; photography, fashion, interior design and art foundation courses at prestigious institutions including Central St Martin’s. This year our Upper Sixth leavers are equally ambitious aiming for places to read for example: Psychology at UCL, Theology at Durham, Law at Warwick, Spanish at KCL, and Civil Engineering at Nottingham. Because of her achievement in the Maths Challenge his year, Barbara Z. in Year 10 has been invited to the National Mathematics Summer School in Leeds later this month. In the national Physics Olympiad, Lower Sixth student Louise L. gained a Gold award and fellow Sixth Formers Grace Q., Sally Z. and Oon I. achieved Bronze awards. In the national Biology Olympiad, Upper Sixth student Alice S. was Highly Commended by Royal Society of Biology and fellow Sixth Formers, Maria K. and Ana W. were Commended. Upper Sixth students presented their Extended Projects in November; these comprised a wide range of essay topics including the ecology and survival of the Great Barrier Reef, the portrayal of women in the Marvel films franchise and the education of girls in Nepal. Artefacts were also produced including information leaflets for adults and children on Tourette's Syndrome, children's story books, a biographical account of a woman's experience of the Chinese cultural revolution and a play script. Once more, ‘#YesSheCan’.

At St Mary’s, can your daughter be her best self through sport?

Our Sports Award dinner was, as ever, a very lively celebration of multiple achievements across multiple arenas: our Year 9 Athletics team came 1st in the Olympic Cup last summer; our U16 team are District Hockey Champions; our U16, U14 and U12 teams are District Netball Champions and our U14 ESNA team qualified for the Eastern Regional Schools Netball Tournament. Rowing coaching continues apace with sessions having taken place throughout the summer and other holidays; the weekend programme has been extended to include Year 7.  In other arenas, Georgia M. and Matilda R. competed as part of the City of Cambridge swimming team which came fifth in the Nationals. Georgia is now ranked 4th in the UK in her age group. Matilda went into 1st place in the ASA British ranking for the 13 years age group for the 200m butterfly. Imogen H. competed in the National Sprint regattas and regional hasler marathon in Kayaking. She also won the Flatwater Racing Association’s Winter Series for U14 females. Kilda M. finished 6th in the British Shooting Schools Pistol Championships. I think it’s clear that ‘#YesSheCan’.

At St Mary’s, can your daughter be her best self by making her thoughts heard though the creative arts?

Sixth Form Art and Photography students have scored notable success this year. In the Economic & Social Research Council’s prestigious National Photography Competition, Emma P. won the ‘better health’ category for her photo 'antioxidant', Charlotte S. came Runner Up in the 'better environment' category for her image 'fun or deadly' and Alice P. and Emma S. were Highly Commended. The Rotary Club Young Photographer’s Competition took ‘The Beauty of Nature’ as its theme this year: Molly P., Charlotte S. and Grace H. had their work exhibited in Lion Yard; Charlotte's work was published in the Cambridge Evening News. Lucy Q. was recently commissioned to create a painting for the annual Catholic Woman of the Year formal luncheon in London. Again, the answer is ‘#YesSheCan’.

At St Mary’s, can your daughter be her best self through the performing arts?

Approximately, 25% of students take music lessons in school. In February’s Associated Board Royal School of Music examinations, 54% achieved Distinction and the rest, a Merit. Our Senior School Christmas Concert featured over 125 students performing a feast of Classical, Pop, Jazz and sacred music at our Christmas Concert. The finale highlight was the beautiful world premiere of a commission by Ēriks Ešenvalds for our 120th anniversary, funded by a generous donation from the Circle of Friends. Ēriks wrote a bespoke setting of the medieval text ‘There is no Rose’ for Allegro and Cantore, our two senior choirs. This delightful piece was sung again at our carol service. Now in its eighth year, our Young Pianist of the Year competition included a range of repertoire from Baroque to Modern. The Agnes Heron Memorial Cup was awarded jointly to Year 11 student Mia R.-B. and Lower Sixth student Annabelle B.. Both students also sang in the ‘Vocalist’ category of our Young Musician of the Year competition. Annabelle offered a third performance (on violin) within the Strings category. The overall winner was Annabelle for her piano performance. The adjudicator commented on how high the standard of musicianship was at St Mary’s. Speech & Drama continues to thrive: approximately 100 students take part in classes in the Senior School and 30 in the Junior School.  75% of all LAMDA exams taken this last year achieved Distinctions and the rest, a Merit. 45% of these Distinctions were high Distinctions (88 and above). In the Medal examinations -Grades 6, 7 and 8 - 92% of entrants achieved Distinction. Our Lower Sixth Drama students created an original piece of intensely moving and thought-provoking theatre: Bye Bye Baby, which explored the experiences of young unmarried mothers who were placed in Baby Homes during the 1960s. Our Head Boarder oversaw another fantastic Boarders' Concert in March for which a record 110 tickets were sold; monies went to the charity, CARE. Hours of rehearsals went into to producing and choreographing acts to showcase the boarders' cultures from the more traditional to the contemporary. The School Musical ‘Chicago: High School Edition’ with its cast of 58, supported by a production team and crew of 51 strikingly epitomised school spirit. Over 800 tickets were sold for the three-night run. The singing and dancing of Molly P. as Roxie and Ava L. as Velma brought an astounding maturity and energy to their portrayal of these “scintillating sinners”; they were supported by an impressive company of actors, dancers and musicians. The quality of the final performances was testament to the commitment of the students and the performing arts team; all who were involved should feel incredibly proud of all that they achieved: it was the best school production I have witnessed in 12 years as Headmistress. So, in the performing arts as in other areas, ‘#YesSheCan’!

As ever, at this time of year, we say goodbye to staff members who have been instrumental in helping your daughters be the best they can be. Further reflections on those retiring this year are contained in our school magazine, Magnolian; reflections on others are on our website. This summer we bid farewell, with gratitude, to Dr Gordon Miller, who is retiring after 18 years of dedicated service to this community as a benign and highly regarded teacher of Physics, and to Elizabeth, Gordon’s wife, who has been our dedicated and expert Biology technician for 15 years. We wish them fulfilment as they spend more time with their family. Another colleague who is retiring, to spend more time with her daughter in Australia, is Mrs Delia Russell; currently teaching part time, she was formerly our Head of Physics. We bid farewell to teachers who move take jobs in other geographical locations. Two staff move to Europe this summer: Ms Heewon Park moves to Germany having served our Classics department with great spirit over the past four years; Mr Raphael Maringue leaves our Modern Languages team to move to Denmark. We bid farewell to other teachers as they move to new posts: we thank Mr Daniel Gabbitas has taught Physics for nine years and supported, with notable success, the Physics Olympiad. We additionally thank Mr Ed Piercy for his work in the EAL department. We said farewell at Easter to Darren Kelly, Head of Maths. We wish each departing staff member God-speed and happiness.

I warmly commend all the Governors and my teaching colleagues and technicians, those in the bursary, domestic bursary, catering, works and administration, boarding and nursing teams for all that they have done this year, as every year, to tirelessly support the girls’ well-being alongside their academic, creative, spiritual and sporting development. Thank you.

Finally, thank you, parents, for entrusting your precious daughters to our care at St Mary’s where it is our privilege and joy to act in loco parentis ensuring that they are known, nurtured and inspired. I wish all those leaving our community great happiness and to those students returning in September and their families, restorative holidays.

As I like to remind everyone annually, St Mary’s is a community of those members who live in it, draw inspiration from the past, garner present resources and plan for its future prosperity; and as I reflect on another year of our community life, I give thanks for all that has been, looking forward to the year ahead in a spirit of hope and optimism. We have lived up well to our School Motto: Felix Quia Fidelis; that is Happy through Being Faithful. We have certainly lived up to ‘#YesSheCan’!