The annual GDST conference took place this week. It was an opportunity for Heads and Junior Heads along with key strategic leaders in the Trust to gather and debate; the focus was on networking and enhancing the employability of the girls.
Two inspirational women opened the conference; Sacha Romanovitch, CEO Elect of Grant Thornton UK LLP and Sandie Okoro, Global General Counsel at HSBC Asset management and an alumna of Putney High School. They both talked passionately about being successful women, the challenges of a family versus the workplace and the qualities needed to succeed.
It was reassuring to hear that what we want to instil in the girls, chimes so well with what these women as powerful employers want to see. Of course the academics are important but qualifications are a sieve and the message was very clear that it is the right attitude of mind that is essential.
Sacha Romanovitch went even further, she doesn’t want an “expert” with a perfect knowledge base – it is easy to get information these days. Her company wanted to remove the academic filters and go straight to the attitude of mind, looking for initiative, adaptability and conceptual agility. An ever-changing world needs people who say they might not know an answer but they will find a way through the problem. Resilience is right up there too, sheer tenacity in keeping on keeping on was highly valued by both women. Both also talked about the ability to work with other people, to facilitate consensus and respect diversity of perspective because the best collective thinking comes from diverse minds.
Sandie Okoro spoke of the need for courage and confidence in the workplace and to remember that women were not the only group suffering from unconscious bias. As a Nigerian woman, she spoke about battling against stereotypes but also not to take advice based on current stereotypical views. Starting out in work, she had been warned of the perils of being a woman managing a man – now an irrelevancy. The issues of the future will be different to the issues of today and we need the imagination and flexibility to cope with whatever comes our way.
I am confident the extra we give to the girls focuses on acquiring these attitudes of mind. One example of this was clear at the GDST Junior Quiz tournament last week; I could really see our Year 5 and 6 girls realising the need to work as a team, to think quickly and to take a risk pressing their buzzers if they wanted to win. Also when earlier this year, Chamber Choir (inexplicably) failed to get through to the final of the GDST Junior Choir of the Year competition, I was heartened by Honey Helm’s response: “What do we need to do to get in next year?” A fabulous reaction from a Year 5 pupil.
The Cantata in the Spring term gave our girls exposure to a new group of children – including boys! Through this and similar events involving local state schools, like the Able Writers’ Workshops, The Shakespeare Day in Year 2 and the Year 4 Sports Day coming up next week, the girls work with some children with different approaches but can collaborate, adapt and enjoy that experience.
Our girls constantly amaze me with their attitude; only yesterday disaster appeared ready to strike the Year 5 and 6 production when Ella-Mary, due to be Robin Hood, was struck down by laryngitis. Freya Burton-Franklin picked up the script, declared she would learn it and played the whole role later the same day to a packed theatre. No fuss, no histrionics, she just got on and performed brilliantly.
These competition and events matter but of course, so do those all-important academic outcomes. SATs results will be published again soon, along with the Sunday Times Parent Power list. We will not be featuring this year – not because we would not be high on the list as before but because the Government changed the goal posts making it impossible to complete and mark the test before reporting to parents. In order to report progress to parents we would have to had double test the girls; once for their reports and then use the national SATs for external validation of excellent teaching. We decided that it would be wrong to swamp the girls with tests to prove what we already know – we can get excellent academic achievement.
For many state schools the Year 6 focus is all about testing. Media articles proliferate about teachers “fixing” results because the pressure for schools to get the right numbers is intense. We are so fortunate not to have to bow to this. We can achieve highly whilst still developing the qualities the girls clearly will need in the future, through competitions, performances and an enriching curriculum.
Sarah Skevington, Head of Juniors