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I find conducting interviews a delight.
It’s a privilege to share the interests and aspirations of those passionate about their work. This week I was interviewing students presenting themselves for the key positions within the school’s senior prefect team – and what an inspiring experience it was!
Roedean’s process of appointing the eight senior prefects for the year is commendably democratic. The whole school votes for the students they believe will best represent them out of the entire Year 12 class. New girls and old, loud and quiet, have an equal opportunity to become one of the eight girls who form the leadership team for the year.
Having been nominated by their peers, each student writes a letter of application and presents themselves for an interview with a senior manager and me. This year, as always, was an interesting session. The girls presented themselves clearly, speaking with deep knowledge about their school and demonstrating a sincere commitment to see it move forward.
Past experience of involvement in school life is of great benefit in the interview. The struggle to get girls to attend house play rehearsals, understand the role within the orchestra, or work to a deadline when contributing to the school newspaper were all drawn on. The skills acquired in such positions – leadership, persuasion, punctuality, reliability - are all transferable to the roles for which the girls were applying.
The girls recognised that joining the senior team could be potentially divisive within their own peer group. They spoke with self confidence, however, about how the girls respect the role of student leaders and look to them to speak on their behalf. Running a school, said one, was like running a company: the workers like to complain about management, but in truth they trust them to make tough decisions which are in everyone’s best interest.
The posts will be allocated this coming week and I am confident that, once again, the team that the students have nominated will fulfil their duties with dedication and professionalism.
I will, however, suggest each of them to read a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (2013) before they take up office. Sheryl speaks here about the challenges of being a female leader in an environment in which women still make up a small proportion of the top executives. Her advice, which I will encourage my students to imitate, is: be bold, trust in yourself and be ready to lean in at each meeting to ensure your views are heard.
I know that in order to continue to grow and challenge myself, I have to believe in my own abilities. I still face situations that I fear are beyond my capabilities. I still have days when I feel like a fraud... But now I know how to take a deep breath and keep my hand up. I have learned to sit at the table.
By Frances King, Headmistress at Monday, 22 April 2013
Chekhov’s Three Sisters was performed at Roedean in a week of deep snow and ensuing travel chaos. Such weather led Roedean to experience a greater sense of isolation than usual. A fine introduction to the theme of exile which pervades this play.
Chekhov is a brave choice for a cast of school girls: not least with nine out of the fourteen actors playing men (see Mrs Armes’ letter to The Times http://www.roedean.co.uk/media/63/2763-microsoft-word-imagine-you-are-capable-of-playing-beethoven-_2_.pdf ). The concepts explored - alienation, loss, uncertainty about the future, homesickness and longing – remain, however, timeless and the girls did a fine job of presenting these on stage.
Benedict Andrews, speaking to the Guardian on 10th September about his production of the play at the Young Vic, felt the core theme to the play to be homesickness: Chekhov's siblings, stuck in their provincial backwater and dead-end lives, perpetually yearning for Moscow. It is, he says, "an exemplar of what's become a key condition for us, which is a homesickness in our own lives". Certainly for those in the Roedean production, living in another culture is a familiar experience: 8 of the 14 actors were full boarders living away from home.
Today’s young however are not as cut off from home as Chekhov’s sisters would have felt: the playwright suggested that they were living in a town like Perm which was 2 full days train journey from St Petersburg. For today’s boarder, whether she is from Edinburgh or Shanghai, the distance in space and time to home, the lack of news, the lack of culture and intellectual discussion is not such a problem.
Instead, what was stressed in our production was that of longing for the unobtainable: the move to Moscow was impossible from the start, happiness in love for any of the characters seemed blighted, the dream of fulfilment through work turned from optimism at the play’s start to a nightmare by its end.
The heroine, Irina, had to come to terms with these issues, to learn to accept the realism of life and to live with its disappointments. For idealistic youngsters playing these parts without the life experience that brings such depressing lessons, this was a hard message to convey. Yet they did this with passion and conviction, leaving the audience with a heavy sense of accepting that we must accept life as it is not as we dream it to be.
By Frances King, Headmistress at Tuesday, 19 March 2013
The image of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is not one which might readily come to you as you eat your breakfast. If, however, you are enjoying your bacon and eggs at the High Table of an Oxford college it might seem more likely to come to mind, stimulated by the conversation of your fellow guests.
I spent a few days over half term at Jesus College and had a fascinating time, not least enjoying the company of a number of visiting academics at meal time. As a group of disparate individuals pursuing our own interests, the meal table provided the opportunity for us to meet, converse and leave, from my part at least, charged with a greater energy as a result of this unexpected encounter.
Those at the breakfast table included a City headhunter working on thesis about a herbalist from the Reformation, a German law professor and an astrophysicist from CERN – hence the thoughts about particles colliding at great energy.
By chance we were in a college founded at the time of the Reformation and our conversation explored, for the benefit of our European colleagues, what this meant in England. If you simplify this vast movement to the urge for individuals to break away from a central authority in order to explore ideas for themselves, you come, in fact, to a distinguishing feature of the modern university. Particularly if you encourage individuals to discuss their ideas with others.
The City scholar is studying William Turner, known as the “father of English botany” for the work that he did in recording in English the names of plants. (Turner gave us the plant names of daffodil and daisy amongst others.) By translating into English the Latin names and properties of plants and herbs used in medicine he made accessible to all the knowledge which had previously been held by the church.
Turner was a true Reformation student as he was exiled twice from England for his views and found himself in the 1540s travelling through Italy, Switzerland and Germany. On his journeys he exchanged information about plants and wild life with eminent international experts, and discussed with the leading continental exponents of the Reformation the latest developments within the Church. On his return to England he was greatly sought after to share with others the knowledge he had acquired through his European experience.
The German lawyer is a professor at Gottingen University, which was a leading exponent of the “enlightened” university in the 18th century. The guiding spirit of this new foundation was the Baron of Münchhausen who freed scientific research from censorship by the church and gave academic teaching high priority. He instituted a shocking innovation for his day: that of opening the library to the students.
Today Gottingen maintains a forward thinking approach. Our breakfast colleague told us of his work with the Sino-German Institute for Legal Studies which works closely with the University of Nanjing. Amongst other courses it offers a unique double degree program in Chinese Law and Comparative Law. The program is interdisciplinary and provides students with an advanced knowledge of Chinese Law, language and culture together with the analytical and methodological skills to critically examine and discuss recent developments in China and East Asia. Just as Turner’s travels to Europe proved critical to take forward development in thought in post Reformation England, so Gottingen is ensuring that it gives its students the tools to engage with the exciting developments emerging from East Asia.
And so to our final breakfast companion: a German physicist at CERN who is working on the baby brother to the LHC and is seeking to find new paths for the future development of energy from which the world should benefit. CERN, we learnt, consists of 8000 scientists working in 60 countries. It was to meet the needs of this extended community that the world wide web was originally conceived by Tim Berners-Lee, a scientist at CERN, to meet the demand for sharing information between their scientists working in universities around the world.
And with this we concluded our conversations. From our discussions around the breakfast table of a 16th century college hall sitting under a portrait of Elizabeth I we exchanged email addresses and agreed to keep in touch.
By Frances King, Headmistress at Monday, 25 February 2013
Chocolate truffles, crisp mountain air, trains that run on time?
It had to be something big to draw me away from Roedean where I have had five stimulating and happy years. I am, however, finishing work here in July and heading off to the Alps ready for the new school year in September. Why?
Well, going to school in Nairobi and Montreal as a child might have something to do with my move. By the age of eighteen I had lived in six very different countries, mixed with the local children, and had a chance to see the good and bad sides of growing up around the world.
This interest in the wider world continued during my teaching career and more recently my work in boarding schools has given me a chance to travel once again.
In days gone by I spent most of my time travelling to prep schools around the UK in order to meet prospective pupils. Now I balance this out with visits to distant countries where there is a hunger for an English medium education.
Such travels have opened my eyes to the changing nature of education across the globe which we in the UK are in danger of ignoring at our peril.
Over recent years English has become the language of choice for the upwardly mobile around the world. Foreign companies target university graduates with both an excellent degree and top language skills. Thus acquisition of English is becoming a critical factor in preparing for the future.
English is now being offered at different levels in the most go ahead countries. It is being taught to school students from primary age and it is being offered at university level.
Many leading universities across the globe are shifting to offer either bilingual courses or, as at Maastricht University, only offering courses in English. This allows them to extend their reach to a wider range of top quality students from around the world.
As a result of this change, the most ambitious parents across the globe are recognising that their daughters need to combine top quality qualifications with language skills and, ideally, an international experience.
Over the years Roedean has responded to this growing market. Whilst ensuring that it attracts talented British students, it balances out its local students with top quality candidates from overseas. As a result the girls learn about cultures and language both formally and informally all over the school.
Clearly, Roedean is not alone in offering an international flavour to its education. Many schools across the world now aim to educate global citizens using English as a common language. Swiss schools have a long tradition of doing this at boarding schools.
Collège Alpin Beau Soleil provides a bilingual education (English and French) to pupils from many parts of the globe. It teaches the International Baccalaureate which promotes an understanding of other cultures. And as a Round Square school, part of the organisation set up by Gordonstoun’s Kurt Hahn, it is committed to developing its students as global citizens.
Beau Soleil is a member of global schools organisation Nord Anglia, which owns 14 schools on three continents. Through this group I will be able share best practice with 13 other principals around the world and my pupils will have access to Nord Anglia’s Global Classroom, an online forum for sharing ideas among the whole family of schools.
For me, this move is natural career progression after two headships in prestigious girls’ boarding schools in this country. I believe the girls at Roedean understand this well. With half of them coming from other countries, the girls appreciate that they are being educated for opportunities on the global stage.
The British press in January attributed my departure to disappointment at the lack of national support for private education. In fact, I am moving abroad in response to a growing demand for top quality educationalists to help shape the citizens of tomorrow.
It is a market which the British are well placed to embrace before other, more forward thinking countries, corner the market.
By Frances King, Headmistress at Monday, 4 February 2013
In mid-January I was honoured to receive an invitation to take tea at the House of Lords with Baroness Lynda Chalker.
Baroness Chalker, a former Roedean Head Girl, was a member of School Council until December 2012, and is a significant part of this country’s political landscape.
Amongst her many roles in government she was the Minister for Overseas Development; she is now a member of the House of Lords and runs Africa Matters, an independent consultancy which she set up to provide advice and assistance to companies initiating, developing or growing their activities in Africa.
It was a privilege to talk to someone who has been engaged so actively in our national life and has been influential in taking decisions which have had an impact both nationally and internationally.
My meeting with Baroness Chalker came in the same week that I was sent a copy of a powerful video entitled Leave Your Legacy produced by students at Stanford University.
In true American style the short film uses music, images and a rousing team talk to encourage its viewers to consider what they can contribute to the world.
These two experiences might seem to be worlds apart – the dignified setting of the House of Lords, its link with a thousand years of history, and my conversation with a senior stateswoman of considerable experience and wisdom – in contrast to the pacey and youthful take on the world presented by Stanford. There is to me, however, a close resonance encapsulated in the words, ‘leave your legacy’.
Baroness Chalker has certainly done this: she made best use of her education, her talent and her determination and drive. This combination allowed her to get to a significant position in the political system, to influence many and, through her work in Africa in particular, to leave a legacy through encouraging others to continue to work for others.
I challenge you to watch the video and not feel that you need to sit up and work out what you can offer to the world.
By Frances King, Headmistress at Sunday, 27 January 2013
The start to a new year sees the newspapers full of diet suggestions and exercise plans after the excesses of Christmas. Readers’ resolutions are still fresh and the enthusiasm for a healthier lifestyle hasn’t yet fallen victim to a full diary or lack of self discipline.
At Roedean, we’ve been focusing on participation in sport, as well as high performance, since September.
This month sees the launch of our new Healthy Active Lifestyle programme. By taking into account diet, lifestyle and exercise, our girls will have a sensible template for the long term.
Our girls - plus any staff who want to join them – first draw up their own targets, anything from losing weight to sleeping better. They will keep a food diary and join scheduled exercise sessions (walking/gym/swim etc) with a mentor to guide, inspire and review progress.
To launch the new programme, PE staff set up a circuit around the school to show that one doesn't need to run outside in order to raise heart rates: climbing the 68 stairs from reception to the top of the main building will soon set the pulse racing!
The challenge now is to establish an understanding about the importance of healthy living that this translates into a commitment to regular exercise.
As with all new year’s resolutions there is a danger that the first flush of enthusiasm will melt away – our challenge is to translate this into something which lasts beyond Roedean, to university and a career.
By Frances King, Headmistress at Tuesday, 15 January 2013
At dinner with an infomatics lecturer recently, I was concerned to hear that four of his PhD students couldn’t get a Raspberry Pi* to work. What hope would we have, I wondered, with our enthusiastic but novice Key Stage 3 girls, six of the Raspberry Pi and only our good friend Google for help?
I needn’t have worried. Our intrepid Years 7, 8 and 9 have jumped right in and grabbed the Raspberry Pi with enthusiasm and imagination.
To date we have a working project where the girls have connected their Raspberry Pi to a circuit board and programmed it to turn the lights (which they have attached) on and off.
The real world application of this will be to turn lights on and off in a house, in a predetermined pattern, so that to an outside observer it appears that someone is walking around the house, making the property less appealing to burglars and, importantly, keeping those all Christmas presents secure!
The next group have taken sun safety as their focus and are connecting their Raspberry Pi to a UV sensor which gives them a green or red light depending on the level of UV detected. The red light means ‘get out of the sun now’ and the green, ‘go ahead, as you were’.
The idea for this application came from the Australian student in the group and with the Raspberry Pi being so portable, it will be easy to take from garden to beach and back again.
My third group have dreamed big - and we have yet to see whether we can get it off the ground. One of the girls has a cat which likes to catch small animals and gleefully deposit them in the family home. The idea is to fit their cat flap with a sensor which will only allow the cat flap to open for a) the family cat and b) the family cat alone (ie with nothing in its jaws).
The way in which this will be achieved is the sticky part; we are thinking of a thermal scanner to look for a match in size with the family pet and to deny entry if no match is detected.
My final group are looking to create an energy usage monitor, so that you can get a reading on the amount of electricity different devices are using. For example, a full kettle compared with a half full kettle; a ten minute blast with a hairdryer on a moderate heat setting compared with five minutes on full power - the applications are endless.
At the end of the term, we’ve learnt that controlling hardware using the Pi is really good fun; but also that it unleashes a variety of emotions from frustration, to bafflement to excitement and pride in a job well done.
* The Raspberry Pi is a pocked sized personal computer with tremendous capacity but a tiny price tag. Put simply, the Pi roughly equates to a 300MH Pentium 2, but with a graphics capability that the Pentium could only dream of.
By Sarah Bakhtiari, Head of Key Stage Three at Monday, 17 December 2012
The weather over recent days has been wild, even by Roedean standards: windy, rainy and cold. This, together with the evenings drawing in - it being dark by 4.15pm - can bring the spirits down.
It seemed a good moment, then, to share with the school in our Friday Chapel the Danish idea of hygge. Having checked whether there was anyone present with a Danish connection, I offered my interpretation, which comes from a wonderfully evocative cook book full of winter recipes, Roast Fig, Sugar Snow by Diana Henry.
Hygge, loosely translated as good cheer, is best understood through actions so I suggested the girls imagine getting together with their friends on one of our wet and dark evenings at the school’s Horizons cafe, pushing the sofas and chairs close up to the table, lighting some candles, enjoying cake and hot chocolate, and feeling the warmth flow around the table.
Being with friends at boarding school during such miserable weather can in fact offer a chance for genuine bonding and companionship and Roedean provides ample opportunities for engaging in group activities that may be on the wane in the world outside.
Our girls can take part in communal singing and music making, they can make cards or cakes, have fun at Mandy’s Christmas make-up session, go galloping over the Downs, or stride along the pier on a November afternoon followed by coffee and cake in town.
We were thrilled to find that others recognise the benefits of these community-strengthening activities too. Two HMC inspectors visited this month, and the subsequent report reads:
Roedean has all the attributes of the very best boarding communities: a strong sense of inclusion, a genuine awareness of the needs of others, and a deep understanding of the importance of people. Pupils of all ages feel valued and accepted as individuals. There is no one stereotype for a Roedean pupil, although all subscribe to its values and ethos and the responsibilities that come with membership of a close-knit community.
Back in chapel, we set about creating some hygge in the service itself. There is nothing like a bit of spirited communal singing on a dark evening to blow away the cobwebs. We began with “Who would true valour seek, let him come hither; one here will constant be, come wind, come weather”, singing loudly to drown out the wind outside.
We then moved on to thinking of the promise ahead of spring, with “Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain”, reminding ourselves that “when our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain” they can be brought back to life through the touch of love which “comes again, like wheat that springs up green.”
Finally, for a bit of fun, and a passing reference to Psalm 133, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers [or sisters] live together in unity”, we put our energy into “Jubilate”. This hymn is based on a Jewish dance tune and is most effective when sung several times, each time getting faster and faster, which is just what we did.
We ended chapel slightly breathless, smiling and a little more united as a school community. And hopefully, armed with the necessary tools to cope with the wild winter weather.
By Frances King, Headmistress at Monday, 26 November 2012
We were delighted to welcome Professor Malcolm Grant, President and Provost of UCL, one of the world’s leading universities (and a perennially popular choice for our girls), as our guest speaker at this year’s Speech Day.
Professor Grant has spoken out clearly about the importance of investment in education and has taken significant steps to ensure that UCL continues to offer education at a world class standard.
UCL has this year introduced the Arts and Science degree which offers pathways in both areas combined with the study of a modern foreign language. It is a refreshing approach for a UK university in response to the changing face of the 21st century world of work. Two of their students on this first year of intake are old Roedean girls and there are more applying for this new course in 2013.
Professor Grant’s speech was engaging and challenging to the students, focusing as he did on the importance of gaining wisdom through education. He reflected on the enlightened thinking of Jeremy Bentham, spiritual founder of UCL, who placed great store on the importance on extending education to all who would benefit from it.
Founded in 1826, UCL was the first in England to be established on an entirely secular basis, the first to admit students regardless of their religion and the first to admit women on equal terms with men which it did in 1878.
Since then, the tide has turned with regard to percentages of men and women applying for university: in 2011, women made up 57% of students in UK universities.
However, the ease of access for girls in the UK to be educated to the highest level is in stark contrast to the situation to which Malala Yousafzai’s campaign promoting girls’ education has drawn attention in Pakistan.
Speech Day coincided with ‘Malala and the 32 Million Girls Day’, marking one month since Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman as she travelled home from school in northwest Pakistan.
Pakistan’s education provision is very poor. The country has the second largest number of girls out of school in the world (three million). It spends seven times more on the military than on education. Consequently 40% of the country is illiterate – and a ripe target for the Taliban and their extreme views on the role of women. They have exerted their power most strongly in the tribal northwest of the country and Malala came to prominence as a result of her blog telling of the impact that this has had on daily life.
On a day when Roedean has celebrated its successes in educating young women, it is salutary to be reminded that such opportunities are not available to all. I am sure that my students will be inspired by Malala’s example and ensure that their privileged access to high quality education will not be wasted.
By Frances King, Headmistress at Monday, 12 November 2012
For a headmistress who never wears trousers to work I rather let the side down last week when I addressed a conference of Nigerian head teachers in black jeans and a striped blazer. This was quite a contrast with my elegant audience, who were like 400 tropical birds, despite temperatures well into the 90s.
My excuse was the epic journey I had just completed from Hong Kong via Bangkok and a stopover in Nairobi. I had therefore arrived in Lagos just an hour before my presentation.
I was in Lagos to attend the 4th Annual Conference of APEN, the Association of Private Educators in Nigeria. I was thrilled to have been invited by the impressive Mrs Funke Fowler-Amba, Director of the Vivian Fowler Memorial College, the leading girls' school in Lagos. The conference theme was ‘Equipping Schools to Sustain Change’, chosen to ensure that ideas which had been initiated following the previous conference were sustained.
I was hugely impressed by the delegates, who are already proud of their schools yet realistic enough to know that they must offer a global standard of education if they are to retain their market. To quote the APEN Chairman, Dr Olufemi Ogunsanya, ‘We meet to … share ideas on the best strategies that can be adopted to transform our schools in the continuous quest to be globally relevant.’
I was there to offer an insight into what is taking place on a global level educationally and to demonstrate how similar our journeys towards high standards are. Several presentations were about Assessment for Learning and at Roedean this educational tool is central to our Teaching and Learning Strategy.
The task for the country’s government is huge and the determination of those who work for change in the country impressive. The conference delegates believe that education is the key to progress and Dr Ogunsanya encouraged them thus, ‘Each and every one of you has the wherewithal and experience to help us pave our way in moulding the future of the Nigerian child through insightful education. You all are truly our greatest assets today and tomorrow.’
I wish all those involved in education in Nigeria every success as they move the country forward to achieve its full potential.
By Frances King, Headmistress at Monday, 29 October 2012