Leadership Week

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Today, we are asking more and more of our young leaders. I believe strongly that schools should lead the way in educating for a better world and that our young leaders should be at the vanguard of these changes. I feel we have a responsibility to give the girls the skills to shape the future in a positive way. One key way the girls learn about leadership is through ‘doing’ and therefore we believe leadership opportunities should be spread across the whole school and not just restricted to the Sixth Form and Year 6. 

This week is Leadership Week. It is an opportunity for girls from Years 7 to the Sixth Form to apply for leadership roles in the school. To celebrate Leadership Week, we have invited in outside speakers to work with the girls, to give them a greater understanding of what we mean by leadership and encourage them to be bold and take up the challenge of a leadership role at some point in their school life.

Last week, former alumnae Megan Reitz spoke to the whole school on leadership. Megan has just completed her doctorate on leadership and has worked with companies such as BP, News International and the BBC to help them understand what makes a good leader.

Megan had three simple messages. First every girl should consider a leadership role. Too often we suffer from the “imposter syndrome” where we think we are not good enough or capable enough to do the role. All good leaders question their ability; it is this reflection that makes them better at leading. Rising to the challenge and being taken out of your comfort zone encourages you to demand more of yourself and therefore be better as a result.

Secondly, all leaders need followers and sometimes being a follower is as important as leading. All great movements begin with someone leading, inspiring others to follow and in that action of being followed allows the change to occur. This is something our Girls Leadership Team would endorse; their campaign to make a difference to girls’ education was widely supported by the school and allowed them to raise money for a school in Uganda.

Finally, girls should observe in others what makes a good leader. She encouraged them to look in their everyday life. Girls in their Form who lead a sports team, take on a major role in a school play or lead on a school project. She asked what were their characteristics and what made that person stand out? We can learn every day from each other. There is no one trait that makes a great leader but watching people who have the ability to make a difference, no matter how small, can encourage others to try.

We want girls to recognise and develop the skills of leadership and ask them to apply for positions of responsibilities where they can drive the agenda for change. Leadership is not a popularity contest at Bedford Girls’ School. It should not be reserved for a few popular individuals who win the most votes. In applying for the positions and then being interviewed the girls are forced to consider what the role entails and whether the role plays to their strengths. I look forward to working with our new young leaders and seeing how each girl shapes their role to the betterment of the group, to make a positive difference to the lives of others.

Alumnae ambitions

Last Saturday we held the annual general meeting for former pupils and staff of Dame Alice Harpur School. It was a delight to see so many people spanning a wide range of generations: from former pupils who had left school three years ago to those in their late 80s. Without exception every person there was proud of the schooling they had received and wanted to do all they could to help the next generation of alumnae from Bedford Girls’ School.

As a body of people they were keen to create a very strong alumnae association. They wanted to build an active pool of former pupils and staff to help nurture and develop the younger, new members as they left school. One recent alumna wanted to come back to school to speak to our Year 11s about the value of work experience and how the work experience she had at Year 11 had shaped her life. She also recalled the benefits of Future Fortunes, organised by our Careers Department for the Lower Sixth, which gave her the opportunity to meet professionals which helped her to build up links that she is still using today.

It is this type of alumnae community we are trying to create where former pupils proactively reach out to members in a number of different ways. It stretches far beyond reunions at school and offers a wider range of activities to benefit members of different ages in diverse communities.

Our aim for our alumnae association resonates with what Hillary French, president of the Girls’ School Association, spoke about this morning on BBC Breakfast. She said that schools had a role not just in teaching girls to pass examinations but also, importantly, to give them the softer skills of networking and building contacts to help them compete successfully in the very competitive job market. It is with this ambition in mind, this evening I am meeting with former alumnae of both Bedford High School for Girls and Dame Alice Harpur School who are currently studying in Newcastle and Durham. Why the North East? The GSA Heads’ Conference this year is being held at Newcastle and it provides me with opportunities to introduce former pupils of both schools to speakers at the conference and in doing so build up their networks. Schooling at BGS continues long after the girls have left us in Upper Sixth!

Treasuring our heritage for future generations

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The history of Bedford Girls’ School has always been very important to me. I truly appreciate that BGS would not be where it is today without the foundations, the reputation and the past leadership of Bedford High School and Dame Alice Harpur School. Whilst BGS has its own identity, we have firmly built upon the foundations of our heritage schools and continue to do all that we can to recognise, value and appreciate our legacy.

On Friday 3rd May, exactly a year after we celebrated the Official Opening of Bedford Girls’ School, we invited former headmistresses, governors and benefactors of Bedford High School to celebrate, with us, the vital role they played in strengthening our heritage. In particular, we wanted to offer an opportunity for our special guests to view the legacy items brought over from the High School which have been afforded a new home at BGS. For former pupils, parents and staff of Bedford High I recognise that leaving behind their beautiful buildings has not been easy. Whilst we cannot replicate the physicality of a building we can bring over tangible reminders of a place and try to recreate its spirit. I hope we have done that for both our legacy schools with our Heritage Corridor that houses photographs and paintings of former headmistresses, the boards that identify former head girls and our display case of memorabilia which we will change every year to ensure as many of our treasured legacy items are displayed. We have also installed the fabulous stained glass windows that had been kindly donated to the BHSg Junior School by the Abrahams’ family. New parents to the school marvel at the beautiful windows – another tangible reminder that our history enhances our future.

Our visitors spent the afternoon in the gardens of Burnaby House, an enchantingly peaceful and reflective spot dedicated in memory of former BHSg pupils who sadly lost their lives while still of school age. It was a perfect afternoon, the sun shone and it was lovely that former members of the High School community could come together to share memories of the past but also feel confident about the school’s future. As Lottie Bruce, our Deputy Head Girl and former pupil of BHSg said to our guests: “All these physical things are a constant reminder and presence of Bedford High, but there is much more than that to remind us. Bedford High had an infectious feel of enthusiasm and community about it, and I can also feel that here. Therefore, it is not just the physical, material memorabilia that has been bought over which you can see, as well as these I hope you can feel a certain aspect of Bedford High in this school like I can”.

Our new Alumnae association is keen to embrace the existing alumnae of DAHS and BHSg, not only to help them feel integrated into the new school but also to develop an active pool of women who can help support and engage with one another throughout the different stages of life. From school leavers seeking guidance on university, gap years, volunteering work or mentoring; to graduates wanting work experience, new networks or social links; support to members who are taking a career break or taking time to raise a family and our older members who would like to rekindle social links, enjoy clubs and activities  or give back through volunteering. BGS Alumnae has huge and exciting potential; women of three schools supporting and collaborating with one another, a force to be reckoned with and an alumnae of which to feel enormously proud.