Meet the Headmistress at Malvern St James Girls’ School

Meet the Headmistress at Malvern St James Girls’ School

16 October 2020

As Headmistress Mrs Olivera Raraty embarks on her fifth year at Malvern St James Girls’ School we’ve caught up with her to find out a little more about MSJ and what the future holds.

Can you tell us about the history of MSJ?

Malvern St James Girls’ School recently celebrated its centenary year in its current building in Malvern which was purchased by two founding headmistresses Poulton and Greenslade in 1919. It used to be the Imperial Hotel when Malvern was a fashionable spa town. This means we are lucky to have spacious corridors and are just across the road from a mainline station to Paddington-Great Malvern. However, the School is far older than this as its founding schools in Malvern date back to the late 19th century. All were committed to giving girls a first-class education by far sighted, pioneering women so that future generations of young women could take up their place in society and the world of work as equals to men. We remain strongly committed to this mission and believe that an all-girls environment is uniquely placed to promote strong self-belief and a culture of achievement in girls which takes them far in the world.

In your opinion what does MSJ do particularly well?

We are extremely good at developing confidence in girls and providing them with a well-rounded education so they can hold their own both socially and intellectually. Most girls come out with fantastic GCSE and A level results that regularly top tables in the three counties area and go on to top Russell group universities including Oxbridge, Durham, UCL and Bristol. Most years, nearly 50% of leavers destinations are for top STEM related degree courses but we are also really good at helping girls find their own path even if this is less conventional. An advantage of all girls, is that we are really good at developing leadership skills in girls at every level, so they have far more opportunities to gain mind-sets and habits while young that will take them further in life, often in more competitive environments as they believe they can and should lead.

What I’m most proud of is that they do most of this whilst staying grounded as people and developing personal capacity for enjoying life outside their studies through music, expressive arts, sport, outdoor pursuits and volunteering within the community. Our girls are friendly, well-mannered and the kind you would invite home or join your team. They are regularly invited back by Boys schools such as Eton and Radley for reeling but are equally at home working with other young people with social disadvantage in their spare time in community projects. They are comfortable in their own skin, highly capable and undaunted by competition and challenge. They take it on and often win!

How do you prepare girls for the next stage in their school career?

Firstly by not underestimating what young people are capable of achieving with the appropriate support and encouragement. It’s all about confidence and character building.

We do this through our wide-ranging extra-curricular activities programme which includes equestrian pursuits, canoeing and rock climbing, and a very strong boarding offer, ranging from flexi to weekly and full, all of which is great preparation for life. All day girls at MSJ get the chance to board 3 times per term which is great for socialising, having fun and learning the art of compromise. Once you learn how to share a fridge with ten other girls you can negotiate most things in life.

It’s also important to remember that for most young people its praise 9/10 and critic 1/10. They need to develop self-esteem and self-belief. Most young people have too much societal pressure placed on them to be perfect. We teach them that it’s okay to fail and to learn to do that well. It’s about learning from mistakes, picking yourself up and trying again! This applies to everything they do, so we spend our energies on encouraging a growth mind-set.

We have plenty of programmes that support children as they transition from one key stage to the next. As an all-through school from 4-18, we know our girls well, but teachers work closely together to prepare girls so they go up the School with confidence. Also, girls who join at key entry points can expect a very comprehensive induction programme which helps them to make friends and settle in to a new school routine first before piling on the academic work. Those who need extra help with subjects or Learning Support can easily access this through drop-in clinics at lunchtime. Those who need challenge are entered into national competitions and often do very well! For example, our teams regularly go through to regional and national rounds in Oxford Union Debating and Young Enterprise competitions along with Maths Challenges and Olympiads. We heard just recently that one of our Y12 entries to the Air Quality Research Competition run by the Chemistry Department at Bristol University has won!

We also have a comprehensive Careers advice programme, teach life skills through PSHCEE and our Learning for Life courses. All girls also learn about critical literacy so they become very astute at reading news and media stories with a critical lens as well as learning to write brilliant stories of their own which feature in the School magazine, ‘The Chronicle’.

What exciting plans do you have for the rest of the year?

Obviously, this is a very challenging time for all schools as we navigate our way through a host of measures to help keep all our girls and staff safe and well. I’m really proud of the way teachers and girls adapted last term so brilliantly to provide a full timetable and extra-curricular programme via remote learning. Parents were truly delighted with what we were able to provide.

We now plan to build on this year by our continuing investment into E-Learning and Smart Classrooms. This will help us to support ‘blended learning’ whereby we can teach girls in School in a more eco-friendly, paperless way alongside teaching pupils online who are not able to be in School because of illness or quarantine. In classrooms, new projectors and screens have been installed which will help girls to benefit from technology enhanced teaching. WiFi has also been improved across the School to make it easier for boarders to work from the Houses. It has been exciting to see teachers being trained in new technologies including filming themselves using new cameras and sharing resources online with MS Teams upgrades. So while Covid has brought its challenges it has created exciting opportunities to push ahead with technological innovations that benefit pupils in the classroom as well as helping to save our trees!

We are also continuing our work with our local partnership schools in the area sharing expertise and resources. Our girls and teachers really enjoy this work which is of mutual benefit to them and our partner schools’ pupils and colleagues. This year we are taking things further to really develop the community experience so watch this space.

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