We held our Annual Open Evening last week. As ever, it was a thoroughly scintillating experience. But, rather than provide you with a pro forma summary of who did what and where, we thought it might be more revealing to give readers an insight into some of the key messages from the evening. The following text therefore, which we have liberally spiced with pictures from the night, contains the speech Dr Stringer twice delivered to a packed hall of prospective parents.
Welcome. I would like to start tonight by saying a few words about the thinking and the values that lie behind our experience as educators of girls and young women.
The first thing to say is that we are passionate advocates for and specialists in educating girls.
When I first committed myself to girls-only education, after two years teaching in a Co-Ed school during the early ‘90s, the benefits for girls were clearest at the anecdotal level and in terms of a ‘feeling’ in the classroom that things were better. Now, the hard evidence – based on longitudinal studies – is stacking up in a compelling way.
Girls do better not only at school but later in life from a basis in a high-achieving girls’ school.
This is for many reasons, but perhaps the most important to mention now are:
- There are no ‘no-go areas’ for our students in the curriculum – Physics is as attractive to our students as English Literature, and that’s true all the way to A Level and beyond;
- Girls do better because there are no stereotypes which our students feel they must conform to – as evidenced by the way OHS is bucking the national trend in the ratio of girls and young women going into Science, Engineering and Tech;
- Girls do better at OHS, because there are no barriers to learning in the classroom – it really is cool to want to study at OHS;
- Girls do better because there are no glass ceilings – our girls know they can try anything and everything and they can achieve and succeed in whatever area they choose;
- There are no contested spaces around school – our girls feel ownership and a sense of belonging wherever they are – and when they see the superb new Sixth Form Centre currently taking shape in our very midst and due to open in the Spring, they will be even more excited, not only by the absence of glass ceilings, but by the presence of some very stylish glass walls. There is already a growing sense of anticipation in the air as our current Year 11s and Year 12s look ahead to the prospect of co-creating their own collegial community.
Second – and equally important – we are forward-thinking and we understand what an education for young women entering an unfamiliar tomorrow looks like.
The recent GDST Summit focused on the theme of New Rules – preparing young women for a world of radical change – and here at OHS we are approaching that vital work with unalloyed optimism. Things really are changing for the generation of girls in school now in ways that should fill you – as it does us – with a sense of promise.
Today’s student body faces a world of expanding opportunities, dissolving boundaries, crumbling barriers and shifting attitudes. Coping with that reality is all about being ready, and developing the spirit and the will not just to navigate through but also to help build that world of radical change. Not just to face it, but to ace it, one might say.
That is why in GDST schools we are not just preparing girls for that step-change but helping to shape it in ways that will give our students a better chance, a broader choice, a bigger share, a bolder plan, a brighter prospect than has been possible in the past – in this emergent world of radical choice.
What does that look like at Oxford High?
Preparing our students to get superb exam results – yes, without doubt. Here, the stats speak for themselves.
Providing exciting opportunities to learn new skills and broaden horizons – yes, undoubtedly.
These we take as read. Beyond these, though, is something even more important – without which none of the rest adds up. And that is nurturing the Oxford High spirit.
Try to put it into words and it eludes definition. But it is instantly recognisable in our students and Alumnae.
We see it clearly in a fearless individuality that is free from artificial constraints and that drives a sense of purpose and place in the scheme of things.
We see it also in a girl’s confidence – without a trace of arrogance – to be herself and to stride out into the world with a strong sense of identity and a sure moral compass.
Right from its Victorian beginnings, Oxford High School has been about girls being seen and really heard.
Here every girl is known – and she knows it.
And our belief in our girls stems not just from our knowledge but also from our appreciation of them as individuals.
One of the things I am most proud of is the huge variety of different paths our girls take after A Levels.
I have already mentioned bucking the trend against women in STEM.
But we are also making up our own rules about the value of Languages – with a breadth and richness of Language provision that is unique in the area.
And we are proudly going against the grain nationally in the arts – with a vibrant and ambitious creative and performing arts programme – and a soon-to-be-unveiled Creative Arts Centre, which will provide unrivalled facilities for creative expression.
‘There is no road. The road is made by walking’
I love this way of thinking about education.
Presenting a landscape strewn with opportunities through which each girl walks her road in her own individual way, picking something up and perhaps putting it down again in order to pick up something else, whether that’s a book, an idea from a guest speaker, an inspiration from a visit, an invitation to a club or society, a conversation with a teacher. Picking things up, following a track, a hunch, a nudge, whilst knowing that we are right there beside her along the way, encouraging and enabling her to find her way to her niche or her metier, her dream or her ambition.
And yes, of course, we have cutting-edge strategies and programmes to ensure her care and wellbeing from the day she arrives to the day she leaves us. But, beyond that – we make time for her.
Time for the face-to-face, time to pay attention to the small but significant details – vital in a world where data abundance too often is allowed to compensate for time-poverty. She knows that she will forge lasting friendships here, as generations of young women have done before her. That might be with her team mates on a rain-drenched football field or communing in full costume with her fellow Jane Austen fans in the sunny garden of Jane’s home in Chawton on a literary residential.
Finally, she knows that, when she strides out into independent life – she will have the power of the Girls’ Day School Trust network behind her. A network of women empowering her, part of the next generation, to help her become one of the women leaders of tomorrow in whatever field she chooses.