How do we prepare our leavers for the world of work?
In the final assembly before Study Leave begins for our Upper and Lower 6 students, I spoke about two alumnae of St George’s who have followed very different routes in life but both of whom have challenged gender stereotypes in one way or another. Professor Cordelia Fine, a neuroscientist and winner of this year’s Edinburgh Medal and author of Delusions of Gender, and most recently Testosterone Rex writes convincingly and wittily to counter arguments about the gendered brain, views of the ‘men are better at science and reading maps because they’re born that way’ variety. I spoke also of Lucinda Russell, trainer of last year’s Grand National winner One for Arthur, who has had a long and successful career in the male-dominated world of horse racing.
I imagine that most of the girls who were in assembly on Thursday do not have, at this point, more than quite a vague notion of what they would like to do when they leave, and not one of us, of course, can predict with any certainty what we will be doing in say ten years’ time. In school we seek to give the girls as much information as possible, and as much time to discuss and develop their plans. We aim to expose them to ideas about career paths they might never have considered or challenge their preconceptions. Through work experience which we will help every girl in the Lower 6 to find, and a programme of careers education that starts in the Junior School they have the chance to learn about a plethora of working lives, at lunch time speaker meetings, careers events and on residential courses.
The working world is changing, however, and I am sure that many our leavers will find that they have not one career, but several in their lifetimes, and that their working lives will be substantially longer than that of the generations before them. Depending on one’s perspective that could sound attractively free-spirited and liberating, or alarmingly unstructured. Our responsibility in school is to prepare them as best we can for their future by helping them not only to gain the qualifications that they will need, but also to develop some of the versatility and resilience that they will need if they are to move between fields of work, as it is predicted they will have to do. We can also give them a network on which to draw as they move through their future lives, a network of other women to whom they can turn for advice, with whom to share experiences and possibly offer assistance. I feel that traditionally this is not something that women have been especially good at doing for one another, although that is beginning to change. NETWORK St G’s is a new joint venture between the Foundation Office at St George’s and the Careers Department offering networking links and a focal point for any current pupils, alumnae and parents who want to share or receive professional and careers-based knowledge, guidance and information.
In the same vein, as we seek to encourage girls to think beyond traditional routes in their career paths, I am delighted that we will be hosting an information event about Graduate Apprenticeships, led by Robin Westacott, Director of Apprenticeships at Heriot-Watt University and I encourage everyone to find out more about what these excellent new courses can offer to your daughters.
We wish the girls who are embarking on their examinations every success of course; they have worked hard over the past years and now need to maintain that focus for just a few weeks more. When they leave St George’s I am sure they will take with them the spirit of independence and refusal to submit to stereotypes of any kind which is such a hallmark of this school. I hope that, through NETWORK St G’s and the work of our Foundation Office, much of which is currently funded by our Old Girls’ Association, they will remain closely in touch with the school for the rest of their lives.
Alex Hems, Head, St George’s School for Girls, Edinburgh