Page 31 - Independent Schools Magazine
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 With the GSA in Manchester
It’s all about the team
A review of the 2017 Girls’ Schools Association
Annual Conference by Marina Gardiner Legge,
Head of Heathfield School, Berkshire.
 While TS Eliot described April as the cruellest month, any member of school staff knows that the month should be November.
It’s dark, cold, and spirits are  agging without the reviving lights and celebrations of the Christmas holidays to revitalise. Thus it is that the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA) Conference is very well timed for the last week in November. Being Head of a school is the best job in the world, but it is also a lonely one. Conference is a place to swap stories with others, meet new Heads and give and  nd advice and new ideas.
The GSA is a terri c organisation which takes its role very seriously. As a brand new Head of only
a year’s standing, I was given
a mentor last year who came
to visit me, sat with me at the dinner at conference and gave
an induction with all the new Heads from my year group. These events are important in bringing new members into the group and helping leaders in the  rst year. I was really looking forward to this conference as, now into my second year, I certainly feel more settled and ready to share with others who believe in girls’ education, and to learn something new from the huge range of speakers that
we had.
It is the current President who leads on the content and focus of the conference and each one is very different, re ecting their individual passions. This year,
at Manchester, conference was
a re ection of Charlotte Avery, Head of St Mary’s Cambridge, whose passion and opening speech focused on the themes of a classical education: ‘Goodness, Truth and Beauty.’ This classical message was tempered by the importance of inculcating resilience and the understanding that we are what we live;
there is no point in a purely intellectual life, but in order to gain ful lment, contribution, service and commitment are imperative. The theme for the whole conference of ‘Inspire Success Together’ highlighted
the importance of teamwork, achievement and the inspiration of young people.
One of the things I personally love about the conference is the way it feeds the professional and the personal. Professor Bruce Hood spoke about Neuroscience and the importance of single sex education in promoting women into Science. According to Hood the gender differences are greater at adolescence than at any other point and if we have a culture
which supports gender parity
then gaps in performance will disappear. Such an interesting and vital support for the education
our schools offer. So that was professional, but in one of the breakout sessions, discussing parenting a child in the 21st century, we were re ecting on ourselves as parents as well as Heads. A little humility is always important in a leader and I had quite a bit in this session as there was discussion of who had the power in a family. Something Judy from Parent Power highlighted was the importance for everyone to have ’10 hugs a day’; at least 10 moments of approbation whether one provides it for oneself or for others; a great goal for everyone in our community and a reminder to focus on the positive, the success of everything everyone does.
That recurring theme of well-being and looking after oneself was
also highlighted in the wonderful service at St Ann’s, of ciated by the Bishop of Stockport, Libby Lane, who led all the participants in a sermon where she gave permission to relax, to leave the job behind. An extraordinary hiatus in a busy city full of the buzz of Christmas, we came out refreshed and ready for the next day of experiences and speakers.
The wonderful thing about a conference such as the GSA’s
is that it isn’t only the speakers who inspire. Natasha Devon, for example, was impressive in sharing real strategies in inculcating critical thought in young people to help them evaluate the messages sent by social media
and advertising; the comedienne, Rachel Parris - who entertained us after dinner - was hilarious; while demonstration after demonstration by strong women throughout the conference, as well as pupils who played music for us, and alumnae, were constant reminders of why we do what we do and of the strength, courage and range of impressive young women that our schools engender.
I therefore returned to school laden with business cards for the Senior Leadership Team and new ideas for the school, refreshed and ready for the rigours of the end of term. It was a marvellous conference and I can’t wait for the next one.
   Challenging heads to deliver careers advice  t for the future
Charlotte Avery, 2017 President of the Girls’ Schools Association (‘GSA’), has challenged independent school Heads to embrace apprenticeships and deliver careers advice  t for the future:
“Is our careers provision as forward thinking as it could be? What should HE advice look like for our girls? How will the introduction of ‘high- level’ apprenticeships affect our students’ post-school choices? Ask yourselves how ‘50% of our students go on to apprenticeships’, might sound in your school’s marketing materials after generations of saying, ‘100% go on to university’.”
Charlotte Avery, Headmistress of St Mary’s School, Cambridge, told the GSA Conference in Manchester:
“We are currently implementing huge changes to school curricula: the return to linear A-levels; and new content and the 9-1 grading system for (i)GCSEs. At GSA schools, we want to focus on teaching and learning.
But what exactly should we be teaching our girls to give them the best chance of future success?... Here are some challenges to ensure that
we continue to be at the cutting edge of UK education. Are we being suf ciently creative with our curriculum at KS3? How do we measure the ability to learn, and how do we measure self-esteem and the
ability to innovate? Are we offering suf cient cultural capital through excellence in the arts, music and drama? Are we paying suf cient attention to developing critical thinking skills, best developed through rigorous teaching of the arts and humanities, alongside a focus on STEM subjects?... Further, is learning in school suf ciently personalised and differentiated for each child’s needs? What about entrepreneurship in your school – is your school promoting the abilities to turn ideas into action, to be innovative, and to take risks? What about experiential learning: are students leading and owning their own learning?”
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