Many strange tasks befall a head of school: and this week brought what is always one of the strangest, even though it comes round every year. The scene: IB results day. Students and families gather in the school; a table is ready, loaded with white envelopes containing the fateful scores. But before students may claim their results, first the Head must speak.

What an occasion: the audience is certainly avid, but not exactly patient; the clock ticks as insistently as it ever will; digressions are unlikely to be tolerated. There is little to say, beyond how proud we all are no matter what the result, before getting out of the way and allowing the horde to descend. But one thought occurred, looking out over the group of nervous students – one insistent truth. They were about to tear open an envelope and discover a number typed on a piece of paper. How can that define them? How can any grade even begin to do them justice?

Looking back over this year alone, there is far too great a range of experience to summarise in words, let alone numbers. There are highlights: the wonderful art that adorned galleries here at school and at The Saatchi; the music that has filled these halls and caused tears to flow; students speaking at the launch of the Women’s Sport Through the Lens exhibition about how it has inspired them; the sheer verve and exuberance of Hairspray. I think back to the start of the year and listening to a talk from Lila in Upper VI about rotational symmetries in four dimensions, or hearing students pose insightful questions to Helen Sharman, the first Briton in space, and so much has happened in the interim that it feels that an aeon has passed. 

And all this skims the surface. Every student, no matter which events they participated in this year, or how their studies have gone, has grown and learned with a complexity that is unimaginable. Their understanding of the world has shifted in ways that are seismic. They’ve very likely overcome challenges of which their parents and we as teachers are unaware. And for some of our students, one part of this experience has been the simplistic judgement of public examination, reducing all this thinking and feeling and development to a letter or a number.

We’re not naive: we know it matters. Parents, rest assured our tireless endeavour is to help your daughters achieve the letters and numbers that open doors for them and allow them to live free lives, full of dazzling opportunity. Our IB results were stellar as ever: an average of over 40 points, putting The Abbey in the top handful of schools worldwide.

But we are reminded every day that we must help our students see their results for what they are: brilliant tools to enable next steps; less good as judgements on their true capability as young people.

In the end, when we look to the future, and think of our children in the honoured old age we wish for them – none of us worry about the details of the path they followed, their grades, their promotions. We hope they will have lived good lives, full of joy; lives that touched as many others as possible; that worked towards good in the world, and made a difference. Preparation for such lives is what a real education is all about. And speaking to the IB students, seeing their kindness towards each other, their excitement, their determination and courage – seeing their sheer capacity – that is the ultimate source of pride: the sense of lifelong learning and purposeful endeavour on which they are about to embark.

To all our student leavers this year, go out into the world fearlessly and knowing your own measure. Live bravely and openly and kindly. And come back often!

Will le Fleming, Head