Once again “exam season” is with us. There is an eerie silence in Senior School as girls in all year groups are facing end of year school exams or, in the case of Year 11 and Upper Sixth, GCSE and A Levels. This period seems to be elongated every year with students not finishing this year until the end of June. We wish our students well in these public examinations and look forward to celebrating their success in August.
On Friday 10 May we said a sad “farewell” to our Upper Sixth students as it was their last formal day in school. Some members of the year group have been part of the Saint Martin’s community since the age of three. Girls from Junior School joined Senior School and parents of Upper Sixth girls to watch the assembly, during which the girls shared their fondest memories of Saint Martin’s and their aspirations for the future. Mrs Speirs paid tribute to the class of 2019, encouraging them to fulfil their dreams, reach for the stars and not to be afraid to “break the glass ceiling”.
As we wish the “Class of 2019” well, I would like to thank our Head Girl Team – Josie, Lily and Emily – 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 the next academic year. Our Head Girl for 2019/2020 is Isabel Genway-Haden who will be assisted by her Deputies, Beckie Hardy and Elizabeth Gahan. We wish them well in their new roles.
It seems appropriate at this time of year to write about the importance of preparing students for life after Saint Martin’s. As educationalists we often ask ourselves the question: “What is it that we want for the young people in our school?” To get to ‘the’ / ‘an’ answer, we must think about what would or does a 16 or 18 year old need at the point of leaving in order to have the best chance of making the most of their future?
In the educational press there is a plethora of articles giving advice about preparing students for life in the 21st century workplace. What comes out very clearly is that in addition to good academic results, there is a much broader set of skills and values that schools feel duty-bound to develop in their students. The educational experience must not be solely focused on academic qualifications, as this is only part of a much bigger picture of the fundamental skill set sought by employers today, who require so much more of their employees. A great education is one that develops the individual: their minds, their values, their well-being, their skills and their interests: not all of which come with a certificate.
Political understanding for, and appreciation of what an education should be, has become dangerously narrowed: the only message that the political parties appear intent on pushing is one that advocates the singular importance of academic qualifications for the workplace. Unfortunately the shortsightedness of this mantra combined with the squeeze on funding for education means that school leavers and graduates are too often falling short of what is actually needed.
So, what does it mean to be ‘qualified’? The word is used all over the place but I’m not sure people use it as it is intended. According to the Collins English Dictionary: ‘qualify’ (verb) means ‘to provide or be provided with the abilities and attributes necessary for a task, office, duty etc.’
As an independent school, Saint Martin’s is in the fortunate position of being able to steer its own path. We place equal value on the academic, active and altruistic development of every student – an emphasis which we believe enables those students to develop the abilities and attributes that make them ready for the workplace. I say to families time and again, that there can be no denying that academic qualifications are important – they open the door to the next stage – but it is who you are and what you can bring that enable you to progress beyond the door frame. That is the reason why we offer such a broad co-curricular and enrichment programme so that pupils learn these valuable life skills in all key stages. Taking part in the Young Enterprise or Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, being part of a team or musical ensemble or participating in our many residential visits are just a few examples of how we help students to gain the skills needed to flourish in the workplace.
What is the endgame of education? To ensure young people are truly qualified to make a success of themselves in the workplace and their communities. At Saint Martin’s, we continue to be guided by this responsibility, reviewing what we do and how we do it so that the education we provide is dynamic, challenging and relevant.
As we approach the end of a short but incredibly busy half term, I wish you all a restful and peaceful half term break.