St George's aims to provide an inspiring education for girls to prepare them for taking their place in the global community as women of independent mind. Our school motto, Chaucer's Trouthe and Honour, Fredom and Curteisye still informs our ethos today.
Alex Hems, Head of St George's, Edinburgh talks about the value of girls’ schools in the modern world. As the Head of a girls’ school, and the product of one as well, I thought I would share my perspective with you.
18th February 2021 — Much has been written recently about the value of girls’ schools in the modern world. As the Head of a girls’ school, and the product of one as well, I thought I would share my perspective with you.
Girls’ schools have at their heart a passionate commitment to empowering young women and to setting them free from gender stereotype. I am proud to lead a school where girls tell me, time and again, that they feel able to be themselves. This does not mean that they lead a sheltered or artificially sequestered existence, but rather that they are able to explore and define their identity, and express themselves fully and freely while at school. As the parents of girls, we want them to grow up to be confident in themselves, not because of what they look like, but because of what they know they are capable of. Adolescence can be a painful and awkward time, and I recognise that a degree of self-consciousness is inevitable in any environment, but I love the fact that our students feel just as comfortable to be seen in their PE leggings, red faced and warm from a run or a work-out, or to speak in Assembly about the innovative engineering project that they have developed, to deliver the Address to the Haggis at a Burns Supper or to enjoy themselves at a ‘Social’ with their friends, both male and female. I love the high level of engagement in sport and physical activity that we see in girls’ schools, right up to the final years at school. At St George’s not only will virtually all of Primary 6 and Primary 7 be playing in a school hockey team on a Saturday morning, but at the upper end, we can put out 1st to 5th elevens; the girls are still turning out to play because they love it, but for those who would rather leave team sports behind, we can ensure that they leave school with really positive habits around sport and physical activity. This is so important to women’s mental and physical wellbeing in later life and yet another way in which girls’ schools can set their students onto a winning track as they prepare to take on the world in adulthood.
Girls and boys need opportunities to challenge themselves, to take risks, and sometimes to fail. I believe that as adolescents they are most likely to embrace these opportunities when freed from the additional pressure of scrutiny and judgement of the opposite sex, whether perceived or real. Girls can stretch and challenge themselves in leadership roles within the student community, as prefects, mentors to younger students, through running the Model United Nations at school, or MedSoc. If they want to join the Combine Cadet Force, or Young Engineers, they know they can do so without anyone telling them that those activities are for the boys. In a girls’ school the Leader of the Orchestra will always be a girl, as will the Editor of any student-led publication, the Chair of Debating Society or the lead in the school play.
We can focus on bringing before our students inspiring and engaging female role models, who reveal to them, through their own life stories, pathways and approaches to living and working which they might not otherwise encounter. This does not mean, of course, that we discount the male perspective on life, but the point is that we are free to surround our girls with powerful messages about different ways to be strong, compassionate, creative, inspiring women. Every year our alumnae come back to share their experiences of university, after their first few months studying courses which include Law, Pharmacology, History, Engineering, Modern Languages, Business and Economics, Physics, English Literature, Archaeology and Anthropology, Medicine, PPE, Dentistry, International Relations, Computing, Fine Art, Game Design, Nursing and Mathematics. Far from being cowed by their taste of the ‘real’ ie co-ed world, they have embraced all that university has to offer, but also speak with affection and pride of their time at school, and with gratitude for the opportunities, support and fun that they had during their time here. School has equipped them to lead their lives with confidence, and to respond to the challenges they will doubtless face with resilience and humanity. Ambitious, passionate, articulate and funny, they are friends, leaders and independent thinkers who feel empowered to write their own stories. They give me hope for the world that will be theirs.
St George’s sports facilities help the local community stay active during COVID
At a time when many other sports facilities were being forced to close their doors and sports clubs were taking involuntary breaks, St George's realised that their new Multi-Use Games Areas could provide vital support to others in the local area.
11th December 2020 — At a time when many other sports facilities were being forced to close their doors and sports clubs were taking involuntary breaks, St George's realised that their new Multi-Use Games Areas, or MUGA's as they are affectionately known, could provide vital support to many children, adults and sports providers in the local area.
Through collaborations with local clubs and ventures, St George's has created a community-based sports programme. Since installation during the summer lockdown, the games area (which occupies the space of two netball courts or six mini-tennis courts) has become an essential, Covid-safe, outdoor sports venue for many and currently supports the sporting endeavours of over 340 girls every week.
Netball and Tennis are high users of the space; the Judy Murray Foundation has trained up over 90 PE teachers and student PE teachers, while SuperNetters have enhanced the availability of Netball to the community and brought Scotland’s top netball role model, Claire Brownie, to the facility to empower and coach young girls. However, the multi-functionality of the space makes it a useful venue for many other sports and activities including Fencing - Keith Cook has also hosted Scottish and British Fencing training sessions across all age categories.
In just a couple of months, St George's has helped to keep the local community active and engaged in sport by providing a valuable, well managed, outdoor sporting venue.
Talented student creates an electric violin during Lockdown
Sophie Reid, a gifted musician and future engineer, tasked herself with the challenge of designing and building an electric violin during Lockdown as her entry for a school competition.
23rd October 2020 — Sophie Reid, a gifted musician and future engineer, tasked herself with the challenge of designing and building an electric violin during Lockdown as her entry for a school competition. Sophie is a student in her final year at St George’s for Girls in Edinburgh.
Each year at St George’s senior pupils are invited to enter a piece of independent work to be assessed for a prestigious Sixth Form Research Award.
Sophie explains why she chose an electric violin as her entry: “I am interested in engineering and earlier this year I learned to use the software package Fusion 360 to create computer designs for a 'Water-Powered Flood Barrier' in response to the global issues caused by flooding each year. A friend and I worked on the project and entered the design into the Big Bang Fair competition where we were named runner-up in the final for our entry.
“This experience taught me how to use computer-aided design (CAD) to create 3D concepts on screen. I wanted to experiment further to see if I could take my design ideas to the next level and create a physical object. I thought it would be fun to make something that I was interested in, and as I am a keen musician and play the acoustic violin, I decided to have a go at creating an electric violin so I could find out what it was like to play.”
Sophie spent six weeks working on her project during the summer, and to fulfil the entry requirement for the school award she had to document the whole process. She did this by videoing each stage of the procedure from her initial drawing of the designs at the start to tuning and playing the finished violin. Once Sophie was happy with her drawings and had mastered the software to create them as 3D computer designs, she started the physical production phase. Sophie describes this process:
“To custom cut the plank of wood for the violin body of my design, I used the machining function of Fusion 360, which allowed me to programme a CNC milling machine so it could interpret my computer designs. I learned to do this by watching a lot of tutorials on Youtube and my Dad helped me to set up and work the milling machine so that it cut the exact design that I had programmed.
“The hardest part was getting the design dimensions 100% accurate. I worked through many designs and re-designs to improve angles and to fine-tune the exact shapes and sizes of the components. I needed to work out how elements should fit together with complete accuracy and precision. There were many measurements in different units which needed to be converted. Problem-solving was a key part of this iterative process and I also needed to understand how working with wood was affected by each of the processes.
“The best bit was seeing the progression from my initial sketches to the final product. I had a physical instrument at the end that I could tune and play.”
Sophie is currently applying to university to study Engineering. She is currently studying Mechanics, Pure Maths, Statistics and Physics at Advanced Higher at St George’s. She has played music from a young age and is preparing for her Grade 8 exam for the violin. She also enjoys playing the guitar, and the Baritone horn, and is a regular performer in the school’s Orchestra and Concert bands.
Sophie’s has also started her own Youtube channel during Lockdown called ‘The Science of it’ in which she creates video tutorials to teach GCSE level physics concepts to secondary students who have not been as fortunate as her in having access to the quality of teaching and the resources she has had from being a student at St George’s.
A Big Bang Win for Girls in Science at St George’s
A Big Bang Win for Girls in Science at St George’s - running a range of science-related academic enrichment programmes encouraging girls to participate in STEM competitions is proving extremely successful.
3rd April 2020 — Encouraging more girls to study STEM subjects is high on the list of priorities at St George’s School for Girl in Edinburgh, and running a range of science-related academic enrichment programmes encouraging girls to participate in STEM competitions is proving extremely successful.
Two S5 students, Sophie and Iman, entered the national Big Bang Fair engineering competition where their entry won the 'Runners Up' Award in the 'Intermediate Engineering' category.
Sophie and Iman developed a design for a 'Water-Powered Flood Barrier' in response to the global issues caused by flooding each year. Their entry featured a versatile barrier using recycled materials, such as plastics, creating an eco-friendly solution.
Speaking on behalf of Iman, Sophie commented on their recent win:
“The issue of global flooding has elevated dramatically in recent years due to climate change and this prompted us to design an eco-friendly and locally sustainable solution. We wanted to mitigate the devastating impacts of flooding on surrounding areas and utilise the problem of flooding to power the solution.
“Taking part in the competition has been an amazing journey and has inspired us. I am now thinking of pursuing a career in Engineering.”
The girls qualified for the Big Bang competition through submitting a first-class video entry. You can see their video clip entry here: https://bit.ly/2WW5Szn . Their runners-up award has earned them a trophy and £250 to share.
Sophie and Iman's original concept is also being considered for the UK 'Water Prize', which will be decided over the coming months.
The Big Bang Fair is a national, annual competition which recognises and rewards young peoples’ achievements in all areas of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), whilst providing them with the opportunity to build their skills and confidence in project-based work.
Alex Hems, Head of St George’s, commented:
“We are absolutely delighted for the girls. It is a real achievement to see how their initial idea has developed throughout the whole process and a great outcome after the many hours of hard work they put into their project.
“We are certainly seeing a national drive to engage more girls in STEM at school, and we are fortunate at St George’s – an all girls’ school - that we can avoid stereotypes, allowing girls to choose subjects that interest them and that they are good at.
“We have a range of academic enrichment programmes available, from science clubs in the primary years, through to a Medical Society in S6. We encourage girls to participate in a wide variety of STEM competitions, and have been successful in design and electronics competitions, as well as having UK winners in Mathematics, Neuroscience, Biology and Chemistry competitions. Recent visits from Medical Research Scotland and the prominent research physicist Dr Helen Czerski have proven extremely successful in getting more girls engaged.
“In recent years science has had the highest uptake of any of the option subjects in our national examinations. We buck the national trends: 25% of our girls take all three sciences at GCSE in S4, STEM subjects take the largest proportion of students in S5 and S6, and well over one third of all our university entrants go on to study STEM based courses.”
We're Better Prepared for Distance Learning Than Ever
4 key lessons we have learned about my eLearning strategy to increase the use of digital technology to support learning amongst students and teachers.
27th March 2020 — It has always been part of my eLearning strategy to increase the use of digital technology to support learning amongst students and teachers, though my timescales have certainly been compressed somewhat by recent events!
In lots of ways, though, we are better prepared for distance learning and teaching than ever before. The level of technology available to students is such that communication, collaboration and sharing resources, assignments and feedback has never been easier. Our school uses Microsoft’s Office 365 – though similar options are available through Google, and other providers, of course. In particular, we have been focusing on using Teams for classes, to support remote learning.
Throughout the process I have been inspired by colleagues and educators around the world: both those at the bleeding edge of using technology in education, and those who are less comfortable with technology, who have nevertheless embraced the challenges and opportunities afforded by digital learning. Every teacher I have spoken to in recent weeks – in St George’s, on #Edutwitter, or friends who teach in schools all around the world – has demonstrated a tremendous passion for our students’ wellbeing and continuing education that is both heartwarming and humbling.
It’s been a steep learning curve for everyone involved, but we’ve certainly learned a few key lessons ourselves:
• It’s OK to find it hard – while some people (myself included) love the tech, and enjoy playing and experimenting with it, many others don’t. And that’s fine!
• It’s OK to be honest with your students – don’t try to pass yourself off as an expert if you’re still finding your feet. Your students will understand that you are figuring things out; some of them will be equally nonplussed, while others may actually be able to help you (and their peers) to figure things out.
• It’s OK to make mistakes – indeed, it’s inevitable. Not everything will work perfectly, every time. Don’t panic, don’t obsess over what went wrong. Instead, learn from it, try to figure out a different way. And on that point…
• Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are lots of places you can seek support. Your school will have staff who are more confident with technology, most of whom will be happy to offer tips and advice. Further afield, there is a lot of help available online. Microsoft have been pushing out tons of videos, wakelets, blog posts and tweets offering support and suggestions; they have been really proactive in sharing useful sites, and also responsive in answering queries and questions. There are lots of inspirational teachers out there, sharing ideas and lessons learned, too: a Twitter search for #Edutwitter is a good place to start.
As to what we’re doing with all of this tech? Well, at its most basic level we can use Teams (for individual classes, or year group cohorts) as a way to communicate. Often that will be by text, but the video-conferencing capacity of Meetings means we can actually teach lessons from home, with relative ease, talking to our students, fielding questions, sharing our screens to model answers and annotations, or demonstrate working. We can set homework assignments, mark and grade online, share links, resources… Of course, this is important for developing their curricular skills and knowledge, but it’s also important for safeguarding their emotional well-being.
Many cynical adults may imagine students are delighted with the idea of staying off school – and no doubt some are. But most of the young people I’ve spoken with are unsettled, fearful of the risk to their health and the lives and livelihoods of their loved ones, concerned about impact on their futures. The chance to see a familiar face, have a little normalcy, a little human contact means a lot to them: we are using Teams with our form classes as frontline pastoral contact. Even something as silly as sharing videos of penguins walking round aquariums, or pictures of drunk elephants, can raise a smile and lift their spirits – and ours, too!
What exactly the future holds for digital learning remains to be seen. How will we maintain long-term engagement and enthusiasm? For ourselves, as much as the students? Ever the optimist, I prefer to consider the opportunities, though. What new ways of engaging with learning will we develop? What interesting strategies will we work out, together, as a profession? And what bold, new creativity will we unleash in our students?
Businesses Need To Support Women Or Risk Losing Out On Tomorrow's Talent
Empowering girls in the workplace by Alex Hems, Head, St George’s School for Girls, Edinburgh.
7th January 2020 — Despite there being almost a million more women in Britain than men, only one in five UK businesses are run by females. For those who feel women have found their voice and that their contributions and skills are now being recognised alongside men, these statistics tell a different story.
The advancement of female entrepreneurs could be worth £250bn to the UK economy, yet often the challenges women face mean that many of us fail to achieve our potential. While some progress has undoubtedly been made, there is still much to be done to empower women to flourish.
As the Head of Scotland’s largest all-through girls’ school, I see the opportunities girls have to thrive in a nurturing environment where they can explore routes that might otherwise be deemed ‘for boys’. Typically, over a third of St George’s girls go on to study STEM-based subjects at university and we offer bursaries for S5 and S6 girls from other schools who can’t access the sixth form subjects they need to go on to study their area of interest.
While important, however, academic performance is not the only measure of a good education. The innovators of the future who will sell ideas, change minds, and move people to action need to first find their own voice and hold the belief that their opinion matters.
A review by the British Government into the barriers faced by women in business found that just 9% of funding for UK start-ups goes to businesses run by women. This is unacceptable, and the Scottish Government has pledged a second year of support to Investing Women, a network that helps female-led businesses access vital funding. This is a step forward - but how do we bring about change so organisations like these are no longer required to fill the gaps left by gender inequality?
I recently spoke at an Empowering Women Causeway business event and what came through loud and clear from the audience of professional women he feeling they had to act in a certain way to be taken seriously in business. Not being able to remain your authentic self can significantly damage your wellbeing, and ultimately your effectiveness as a leader.
It is well documented that women tend to focus more on their failures and are more self-critical than men. At St George’s, we instil a ‘Yes She Can’ mindset and encourage our girls to explore their strengths and grow as individuals, giving them the confidence and structure to follow their own path in life.
Interestingly, this girl-centric approach is not only taking place in education; the field of sport is also championing a tailored approach for girls to encourage participation. British tennis coach Judy Murray has spoken passionately about the need for coaches to adapt their approaches to best engage the next generation of girls in sport.
It is crucial that women support one another, and I believe that we need to look out for one another in the workplace in particular. According to a LinkedIn study, 82% of women believe having a mentor is important, yet one in five reports lacking this support. At St George’s we have set up Network St G’s, which allows current and former students to network and offer mentoring, support and advice.
Building a supportive network of generous leaders is vital if we are to encourage the next generation of young women into leadership. Their ideas about what makes for a fulfilling life may be rather different from ours. I think that some of my own peers’ daughters will look at their parent’s lives and wonder whether that is really for them. But it is essential that young women see leadership as something that is not only open to them, but is an appealing and sustainable position for the long term.
Entrance exams for autumn term entry into P1 and S1 at St George’s School for Girls take place in January 2020. For further information about entrance assessments for all year groups, contact admissions on 0131 311 8008.