At The Abbey, we’ve always sought to show the full spectrum of womanhood across age, race, religion and more. Our staff and student community mirrors the diverse world in which girls are rightly commanding a seat at life’s table. Society is changing at a pace that will see today’s children entering a new world of university and work, many undertaking courses and jobs that don’t yet exist.

Education needs to be progressive, dynamic and relevant to prepare students more appropriately for the 21st Century and beyond, enabling women to be positive contributors to life and fully prepared to embrace the opportunities and challenges that will break down geographic and cultural borders like never before. And as we head into 2024, we’re deepening our resolve to this. As we’ve said for the twenty years that I have been a part of this community, The Abbey’s commitment to innovative, creative development is a constant in a changing world.

The state of mind has been a talking point for us in the Junior School as we publish today’s issue of the Gateway – not just in terms of how we see ourselves in the world, but how we see a society that feels increasingly fraught. How do we turn fear and grief into love and hope? 2023 has given us plenty to be anxious about, with labour strikes, wars and worrying weather. Our work and social lives have returned at full steam, yet many of us feel lonelier than ever. We navigate the common routines of our day-to-day, while still grappling with very real, existential questions that confront us on a constant social-media loop. The balance seems fragile. World events take yet another turn and it feels more appropriate than ever to look at ways we can protect and nurture our personal happiness and imagination.

For some, that might mean escapism in the traditional sense: losing ourselves in the delight of our Lower Prep and Upper Prep Christmas production this week, or a night of celebratory revelry as will be brought to life in our Parents’ Society Candlelit Procession in a few short evenings. For others, it’s abandoning the strictures of wellness culture and allowing ourselves to eat the mince pies; to drink the mulled wine. Is the unravelling cult of commodified health consciousness an indicator of us retaking the reins to our own experiential happiness?

In my own life, I’m taking the James Baldwin quote to heart: “I think people ought to do what they want to do, what else are they alive for?” For me, that means less time on group chats, and more time having actual chats, in real life, with my friends and family. There is the power of revisiting old joys I have lost touch with – returning to the thrill of carving out time for my ever-growing collection of unread books. It’s the discipline of limiting my social-media diet and instead romping through the stunning Berkshire autumn colours on a long walk with Bodhi. And it’s sharing with our students my own career path from dentistry, through the pharmaceutical industry, to education. It endorses the opportunities to reflect and pivot whenever life offers us a chance to draw a line in the sand, and to embrace such change with courage, optimism and ambition. Our Year 6 Digital Ambassadors led Monday’s assembly thinking about the world in which they grow up augmented by AI – it threw up as many questions in our minds as to what the future holds, as it excited us about the sheer possibilities. 

November heralds the beginning of a long, cold winter. Already, the illuminating significance of light triumphing over darkness has been celebrated with diva lamps and fireworks. And so, as we head into the glorious busyness of celebrating the festive season over the last few weeks of term, my wish for you – for all of us – is the space and time to do what you want, to feel at peace in this world, and contribute to a greater good in the process.

Nisha Kaura, Head of The Abbey Junior School