Heads: Connected – Champions

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There is only one word for the events of this week: exhilaration.

Monday brought the joyous news that Lily and Erin (Upper V) had triumphed in the national final of the Poetry by Heart competition. Their performance of Peter Porter’s ‘Your Attention Please’ was dark, dazzling and unforgettable.

The rest of the week was also full of wonders: celebrating sporting and musical endeavour above all. The Hardcastle Hall rang and echoed with the performances of music competition entrants, and I have never been more grateful that my study gives onto the hall – it was extraordinary to have such wonderful and diverse music as the soundtrack to the week.

The culmination of the event was Wednesday’s final, where those selected to perform came together and simply lit up the room. It was not the technical achievement, impressive as that was, that lives in the memory. It was the expressive performance, the way they told a story through their music, the way they transported all of us and took us on an emotional journey. It was a remarkable evening.

Meanwhile the Reading Festival of Sport @ The Abbey has been in full swing. Community partners from across Reading have been in to work with students; internationals, including alumnae, have spoken about their journeys and showed off their skills and medals; sport scholars have shared their stories, experiences, challenges and advice; and the backdrop has been the remarkable Saatchi exhibition, In Focus: Womens Sport Through the Lens, to which partner schools and the wider public have been invited.

One of the most wonderful aspects of the festival has been to witness the way students have engaged with and spoken about the role models they’ve met and the images that are presently gracing the Hardcastle Hall. They’ve talked with authenticity and passion about sport and about the experience of women and girls; and the heroism of those who have defied expectations and fought for equal opportunity.

To have alumnae Maria Tsaptsinos (Team England Table Tennis) and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis (Team England Netball), both currently preparing for the Commonwealth Games, sharing messages with our current cohort and coming into school has been just inspiring. As with the festival of music, again, it is not just the achievement in itself: it is the way they have shaped and led their lives to fulfil their passions. We don’t insist that every Abbey alumna wins a Commonwealth Medal; but we do hope that each and every one of them finds something they care about enough, and gives of themselves with commitment and honesty. That is our greatest source of pride: every time that any individual student sees a window to express their ideas and to be wholly and uncompromisingly themselves.

And in a week where we have celebrated internationalism, we end by celebrating The Abbey on the international stage. We’ve been invited, along with three partner schools, to address the International Coalition of Girls’ Schools in Boston next week. The topic is Enjoying the Room: Moving the Needle on Girls’ Education. The argument is simple. We will always seek to support and nurture our students to find the path they love in life. On their behalf, let’s be stronger, clearer and braver about celebrating their success in doing so. Time and again the research demonstrates that women from all-girls’ education disproportionately go out into the world and help change it for the better. They are champions: our job is to salute their achievements, and to work every day to provide an education that inspires the champions who will follow in their footsteps, and continue the work of building a genuinely free and equal world. It is an exhilarating purpose that inspires us all.

Will le Fleming, Head

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