As schools around the country prepare for the start of a new academic year, we should ask ourselves, are we equipping our young people adequately for the advancements of the 21st Century?
With technological developments accelerating so rapidly, who knows what sort of careers will be available to young people in the future?
I have long held the view that we cannot prepare our students for a particular career; we can prepare them only to have the skills and confidence to be able to adapt to whatever challenges the future may hold.
At The Abbey we look to build lifelong relationships with our pupils, especially as some of them join us from 3 years old and stay until they finish their GCSEs or Sixth Form. Our former students regularly come back to The Abbey and give talks about their career paths, and I am always amazed by their achievements and their resilience, particularly in overcoming difficult situations.
Last year I visited alumnae in Asia and the USA and discovered that The Abbey gave them strong learning foundations that have prepared them, and our UK alumnae, for careers as diverse as becoming a cosmologist, an Olympic medallist, a pilot, a TV presenter or medics, teachers and lawyers, among other professions.
It is well documented that employers want graduates with a range of skills, which prepare them for the rapidly evolving workplace. Engaging with subjects such as English, foreign languages, art and drama, along with programmes such as The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and community outreach partnerships, helps develop new and valuable skills, including leadership, team building, people skills, compassion and emotional intelligence, all of which are critical to succeeding in the workplace. These skills also enable students to engage with people from all backgrounds and to listen to, and respect, diverse points of view.
International humanitarian crises are sadly a common occurrence and we want our girls to understand and appreciate how the lives of children of a similar age in other parts of the world can be turned upside down.
At The Abbey 100% of our girls undertake volunteering activities during their time with us. The ‘Service’ aspect of the ‘Creativity, Activity, Service’ module of the IB encourages students to engage with the community and actively respond to need. One of the four sections of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Programme involves volunteering. Volunteering is all about making a difference to other people’s lives. It enables pupils to give their time to help others and change things for the better.
By partnering with Reading Refugee Support Group, the School has found ways to engage girls from all across the Senior School, encouraging them to reflect on how we – and society as a whole - view, and treat, refugees and migrants. Twice a week after school for the last two years, pupil volunteers from Years 10 to 13 have been playing a vital role in the development of about 30 children from countries ranging from Kosovo to Zimbabwe by helping them with their homework and English language competency.
As we celebrated earlier this year the centenary of British women winning the right to vote, it brought to the fore the fact that women still do not have the same opportunities as men. Our girls are constantly encouraged to challenge inequality wherever they find it and recognise everyone for their talents and potential, regardless of their gender, race, faith, disability or sexual orientation.
We have found that single-sex education is conducive to cultivating these qualities. Girls are increasingly assertive, less self-conscious, more likely to take up and excel at science and sports, more likely to take up leadership roles and, overall, gender bias is reduced. We want our girls to become versatile, self-confident human beings, clear in their opinions, yet willing and open to being challenged by others. We want them to have the confidence to ‘be’, and the confidence to ‘do’.
As we come to the end of The Abbey’s 130th anniversary year, I am ever more conscious of the global pathway our girls must tread in this increasingly interconnected world. Despite the global turmoil, I remain hopeful about the future. Our girls are internationally aware, outward-looking and intensely thoughtful and I have absolute faith they will continue to thrive as truly global citizens.