As we break up for the May half term holiday the school has a strange quietness as we are well and truly in the examination season. Girls in all sections of school are facing assessments and examinations. For our senior students this can be a pressurised time for students as they try to achieve that perfect balance of exam preparation, consolidation and final revision in order to achieve the best results. It is human nature to often wish that perhaps you had done more, started revision earlier or at worst, chosen different subjects! As teachers in school we try to ensure that the build up towards final examinations is steady and proportionate so that peak performance can be reached at the right time. Music and drama examinations, sporting competitions, performances on stage – whether to a live audience or a remote examiner are a test of preparation, resilience and diligence. Always at Saint Martin’s we aim to ensure that girls are well prepared for whatever challenges they may face.
Last week was an emotional time for our Upper Sixth girls as they ‘stood down’ to take their A Level examinations before leaving Saint Martin’s to move on to higher education and the world of work. As we wish them well I would like to thank our Head Girl Team – Emma, Amy and Sara and the Senior Prefect Team for their hard work, loyalty and contribution to school life. I have no doubt that these girls will become successful leaders in the future.
We have just appointed our Head Girl Team and Senior Prefects for next year. Our Head Girl for 2016/2017 is Hannah Dormon who will be assisted by her Deputies Isabelle Thomas and Annie Sawyer. Many congratulations to these young women, especially as the field of applicants was very strong indeed. All candidates had to write a letter of application and lead an assembly before the staff and sixth form vote. I was so impressed with every candidate and commend their resilience and confidence in applying for these positions. Those appointed act as role models and leaders of Saint Martin’s and I am looking forward to working with them next year.
Saint Martin’s students have enjoyed success in the wider community this half term. Our Year 10 Young Enterprise team, “Ignitus” triumphed in the regional final. Despite facing fierce competition, the girls gave an outstanding presentation to judges. The team were awarded the following awards – “Best Presentation” and “Best Company – runner up”. In addition Sixth Form student Abigail Lavercombe was delighted to be announced as the winner of the 2016 Young Innovator Prize, sponsored by Millennium Point Trust. Abigail is currently in the Upper Sixth and was the only female in the final. The competition encourages students to think about the future of the world around them and how science, engineering, manufacturing and technology can have an impact. The judging panel were impressed by the creativity of Abigail’s ideas, the fact that she has actually built a full size giant greenhouse from bottles and that her passion for civil engineering shone through in her speech.
Saint Martin’s students have continued to show their generosity supporting our school charities and other local charities. Junior School girls organized a “Bake Off”, the Senior Chamber Choir performed a wide variety of songs at lunchtime recitals at the Marie Curie Hospice, girls in Senior School paid to watch members of staff take part in a lunchtime aerobics class, a team of runners completed the Birmingham 10k run and 16 Sixth Form girls and 9 members of staff slept out on a very cold night to raise money for the homeless charity St Basils. I would like to thank all the girls and staff for their time, commitment and generosity.
One of the aims of Saint Martin’s is to empower girls so that they have the confidence to be themselves. There is no doubt that young people are under pressure to conform these days, undoubtedly due to the explosion of mass communication and subsequent visibility. Websites, television, streaming, chat rooms, social media, tablets, smart phones, 24 hour media coverage are all available 24/7. The dynamic of family life has changed – potentially we are all under closer scrutiny at work, at home, at leisure and also at school.
Over the Easter break there was significant coverage in the educational press regarding the pressure on young people to be themselves. ATL general secretary, Dr Mary Bousted, said in a briefing to journalists before the conference that the pressure on girls to be quiet, attractive and listen to the boys doing the talking is “….as great now as it ever has been” as sexist bullying persists in mixed schools. She went on to say “It’s very hard for a girl to be brainy and feminine,” pointing out that there are many derogatory names for girls who want to do well at school but few for boys. Dr Bousted also suggested that there is a “hierarchy” in single-sex schools. “You still get that sorting into the brainy people, the swots, and the ones who like boys”.
Gender stereotyping and unequal opportunities are still with us then, and impacting on both boys and girls. Where does all this leave us in a school context? As a girls’ school, Saint Martin’s has a real opportunity to make a difference and to encourage our girls to grow up to be who they want to be without any pressure upon them to behave in certain ways. Is there a hierarchy as Dr Bousted suggests? I am not sure about a hierarchy, and indeed, who would be top – scientists / first team sportswomen / lead actresses / artists? What I see are girls trying all sorts of different roles encouraged both by their peers and by the adults they encounter. I still sometimes hear comments from parents along the lines of “girls like doing X”, but it is our responsibility to explain that part of our mission is not to fall into stereotyping and expectations, but to give all our pupils the chance to be themselves.
Of course, girls don’t need boys to be confident, articulate, engaging and compelling in social situations or in class, or in the workplace. I have rarely come across such naturally communicative and engaged young women as our Sixth Form – and that is the case as much in the outside world as within school. At school we aim to create a positive working environment, and have a strong study ethic to which all students subscribe. We encourage our students to become like-minded in their concentration, resilience, intellectually curiosity, to have the ability to work as a team, express their ideas freely and be guided by a strong moral compass.
In our school, as in so many others, our girls think for themselves, argue their case, think intricately, analyse with subtlety, find solutions to problems, cope with adversity, stand up for what they believe in, challenge preconceptions, look after each other and have a great deal of fun along the way.
I would like to end this blog with three quotations. Girls – you really can be yourselves! Go for it!
“Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” – Oscar Wilde
“It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are.” – E. E. Cummings
“He (She) who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd. Those who walk alone are likely to find themselves in places no one has ever been before.” – Albert Einstein