The Abbey School head teacher on how the school helps girls fulfill their dreams
PUBLISHED: 10:37 13 November 2014 | UPDATED: 10:37 13 November 2014
Rachel Dent, new head of The Abbey School at Reading, tells Jan Raycroft how the school helps girls to fulfill their dreams and ‘take ownership’ of their world
• You joined The Abbey some eight years ago and during that time have secured promotions leading to the role of first deputy head prior to your latest appointment. What was it about the school that led you to want to teach there and has clearly provided an enjoyable period in your career?
The Abbey is an inspirational place where it is a joy to be. For me, I arrived as the Director of Sixth Form, enabling hundreds of girls to embark on exciting educational and career pathways. The school’s outstanding reputation is much deserved and has continued to make teaching here a privilege. I was also given the opportunity to introduce the International Baccalaureate programme in which we have established and maintained a world class standard.
• Do you to believe that education in an all-girls setting provides the best opportunity for young female students, right from age three through to when they head off to university?
Certainly it is right here at The Abbey. The ‘whole’ school environment means that girls can partake in whole school initiatives such as ‘Be Curious Week’ or “Bee” Curious as it is known in the Junior School, where we encourage the girls to explore the things that truly interest them and share their discoveries. The journey between 3 – 18 involves a whole series of different experiences, especially as the girls make the move from being girls to young women. We also have an environment that works for our girls, who are people that love to learn and want to be tomorrow’s leaders.
• At the core of the school’s ethos is a commitment to developing ‘the whole girl’ to meet the challenges of the 21st century. What particular challenges do our young women face?
All of today’s students, whether they are girls or boys, need to prepare for a future that will be different again from that experienced by previous generations. Personal skills such as self-confidence, self-reliance, flexibility and resilience are going to be as important as the academic qualifications that will secure our girls the futures to which they aspire in the global workplace.
We want our girls to feel they can contribute in all walks of life and that no choice is beyond them. We also want them to care and have ownership over their world and instil their values into future generations.
• You currently offer an impressive range of A level subjects alongside the International Baccalaureate (IB), and a very high success rate in both. What’s the balance between these routes at sixth form and do you see it changing in future years?
We very much intend to continue offering both routes to our students. However, we are realistic that the amendments to A levels both in terms of structure and potential changes to grading may make some students move more towards the International Baccalaureate. Our students, like many others, are also beginning to consider university courses across the world and certainly from a university admissions perspective the IB is globally recognised and understood. This said we have a remarkable number of girls who specialise in the Arts, Sciences and Humanities and for whom A level is the best route. In short, we provide the right choice for each student’s needs.
• We all sometimes need a break away from professional life. Do you have any hobbies and favourite places to visit, in the UK or overseas?
I love where I live and especially walking by the river. However, my mother lives in Sidmouth, Devon and we have many happy memories, especially at New Year when my husband, daughter and dog all swim in the sea. I remain on standby with the towels and hot chocolate.
• Your own daughter is a pupil at The Abbey – how do you ensure you are a mother away from school and the head during the day?
My daughter has grown up with a mum who is both a teacher and a Senior Leader and she knows that being a mum is still number one. We share a good sense of humour, and she has seen me too often with my professional hat off and knows she can always have a cuddle, even if she is now taller than me!
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