Roots and shoots


In an ancient and unassuming churchyard in the tiny village of Fortingall, nestled deep in the Perthshire countryside, you will find, arguably, one of the oldest known trees in Europe. The Fortingall Yew (Taxus baccata) is estimated to be between 2000 and 3000 years old; some suggestions age it as great as 5000 to 9000 years. Whatever its actual date, it is possibly the oldest tree in Britain. The tree is purported to have survived momentous historical events such as Roman and Viking invasions and both World Wars – the enormity of scale is difficult to fully comprehend. 

Imagine your daughter as this magnificent tree with her lifelong achievements as its leaves. What is it that will enable her to stand so long and establish herself so impressively? The Yew is located in a beautiful, tranquil hamlet and has been nurtured over the centuries by local residents. Its roots run deep and are a complex network, organised to nourish and support the plant’s specific developmental needs. Clearly, it would not be standing this long were it not for such a strong foundation.

A child’s early education is their rootball. Your daughter’s early years are a critical time for brain development, as neurons grow and arrange themselves to perform complex brain functions. Patterns of behavioural and emotional operations are absorbed, like nutrients through invisible root hairs, penetrating deep through a brain’s glial cells. Relationships with other children and adults in their life enable our daughters to bloom as ethical citizens. Surrounded by positive role models, they learn important values which engender respect, tolerance and moral purpose to live synergistically on our precious planet whilst nurturing self-esteem, individuality and confidence – to ensure their voices are heard and their sense of agency harnessed. 

At The Abbey, a girl’s educational journey begins in our Nursery setting with a philosophy grounded on fostering a warm, supportive environment. Little Knellies’ ethos is based on the holistic development of each girl, providing a strong foundation for oral skills, critical reasoning and curiosity in the world around them. We cultivate thinking deeply and widely, eschewing gender stereotypes from the moment you enter Knell House, acknowledging that your daughter’s experience at the age of three is the bedrock of life. From gaining water confidence in our swimming pool, to developing socially and emotionally through story-telling and role play with our drama teachers, honing motor skills in our specialist PE and dance classes or finding our voice in dedicated music lessons, each day’s learning in Little Knellies feeds the roots of human development. Gently and individually, we nurture the start of a lifelong learning journey enabling personal expression and making sense of the world around us. 

Fast forward fifteen years and reflect on our Sixth Form students as they fly The Abbey nest to destinations wide and ambitions high. Their personal development has undoubtedly supported impressive academic outcomes. Their attitudes and behaviours have been influenced by many years’ experiential learning. Whilst it may be unrealistic to aspire to a life expectancy as impressive as the Fortingall Yew, our students’ outlook and community connection is vast, their establishing shoots seeking the sun to fuel continued growth. Self-assured by the care and commitment received during their time with us, their aspirations challenge society’s norms for young women. Authoring their own identity, they forge a future where they are who they want to be. For many of our students, the source of such courage, such sense of purpose, such joy for living and learning, is – without question – the nourishment given in those early days in our Nursery, where those values take root.

Nisha Kaura, Head of The Abbey Junior School

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