Question: What do Germaine Greer, writer; Ana Patricia Botin, Chair of Santander and Anya Hindmarsh, designer, all have in common?
Answer: They were all educated at Convent Schools.
Convent School girls can be found in a wide range of successful and prominent careers all over the world. The list above also includes Carmen Cahill, Founder of Virago Press; Anne Nightingale, news presenter); Antonia Fraser, (writer); Carey Mulligan (actress) … and this is far from exhaustive.
Convent Schools are not the same as they were in the 1940s and 1950s and since Vatican II in 1959, which heralded the dawn of a more modern Catholic church, the rules have been considerably relaxed. Gone are the days of fasting for Lent, offering it up for Purgatory or keeping holy pictures tucked into cardigan pockets. Nevertheless, Convents all over the world continue to provide a nurturing educational environment in which many girls thrive.
Why are Convent Girls often so successful?
The answers to this are many, varied and, of course, open to debate:
An all Girls’ Education
Girls educated at all girls’ schools tend to perform better academically. Many girls will ‘dumb down’ when there are boys in the classroom, to appear less intelligent. For the Convent Schools which remain all-girls, this is not an issue. All girls’ communities can also be very supportive, with teachers understanding the career and personal challenges facing girls in today’s modern world.
Nuns as Teachers
Although many convent schools today are no longer run by nuns, some still have significant religious members within their community. Nuns do not have the demands of homes to run and husbands and children of their own. So arguably, they have more time to dedicate to teaching and to the education of their young charges.
Discipline and Work Ethic
Discipline often comes naturally to a Convent Girl. Many schools have a very structured environment around homework, ensuring that work is handed in on time and any departure from this structure is not widely tolerated. So girls learn early how to structure their academic study and this enables them to manage the many demands on their time as they move into the world of work.
The Catholic faith is a fundamental part of life at a Convent School. Many successful Catholic women have cited their Catholic faith as something which has inspired them and provided both solace and guidance during testing times in both their professional and personal lives.
Convent Schools Today
Convent schools in London
In North London we have the hugely popular La Sainte Union on Highgate Road. The school is not fee-paying and it is constantly over-subscribed due to its excellent results and high reputation. La Sainte Union now admits boys in the sixth form.
Convent Schools in the UK
Just outside London, Woldingham in Surrey occupies a prominent place amongst Catholic schools in the UK. It remains all girls and offers a happy and varied education.
The highly successful New Hall, in Essex, alma mater of Anya Hindmarsh and Leonora Carrington (painter) has just started taking boys. St Mary’s Ascot, the doyenne of British convents and alma mater of Marina Warner (writer), continues to top the league tables and takes girls from all over the world, all of whom are practicing Catholics.
Convent Schools internationally
In New York, Manhattan there is the highly sought-after Convent of the Sacred Heart, part of the wider Sacred Heart group of schools which also includes Woldingham in the UK.
Florence boasts the excellent Instituto del Sacro Cuore (Institute of the Sacred Heart), which now also takes boys. The renowned Trinita dei Monti Convent, romantically situated on the Spanish Steps in Rome, was closed in 2005, as the Order of the Sacred Heart no longer had the nun-power to staff it.
Convent schools across the world remain popular choices for both Catholic and non-Catholic families looking for a strong educational environment for their daughters.
The GCSE exams have started and many parents will be wondering how best to support their children through this key period. The following suggestions might help:
Gentle support rather than nagging is the best approach. Try to avoid the temptation to manage your son or daughter’s revision as this can make them more anxious. Parents muscling in on revision plans and trying to organise their time, can be infuriating for them. Constant questions about how revision is going can lead to arguments, which end up being detrimental to the whole process.
Instead, offer to help your child to draw up a revision timetable, or to test them on what they have learned so far. Offer encouragement and frequent snacks and drinks. It is crucial that they feel your support.
Giving your child a sense of responsibility for and ownership of their own revision, plus the feeling that you’re behind them in this, is paramount.
Avoid unhelpful comparisons
Drawing attention to the fact that their older siblings did GCSES effortlessly, or that you were much more organised in “your day” will not help. It will probably add to the pressure that your son or daughter is already feeling.
Comparing themselves to others- especially siblings who are highly academic- might make things worse.
If your teenager is looking to provoke an argument, or their behaviour becomes more challenging than usual, try not to rise to it. This is a stressful time for the whole family and the best approach is to stay as positive as you can.
Watch out for signs of stress
If your child is struggling to eat, suffering from insomnia or reluctant to socialise, they are probably over-stressed. If you see any of these signs, speak to your child and reassure them.
Take steps to alleviate the stress such as preparing their favourite foods, encouraging them to spend time with friends and to take exercise. Even a short walk in the countryside can work wonders. Talented students can fall short of their predicted grades due to stress. It is not easy, but try to help them to maintain a healthy balance between revision and living.
Offer rewards and encouragement
A series of rewards during revision time can really help your son or daughter to keep up the momentum. A trip to the cinema to see a good film, preparing their favourite foods, inviting close friends to supper- all of these may seem like small things but they can make the world of difference to your child’s sense of well- being and confidence.
Finally, remembering that there is a life beyond the GCSEs is vital, both for teenagers and for their families. This is can be very challenging for students when they are in the midst of the exam period. Try to reassure your son and daughter that the exams last only for a few weeks and that after that … they have their whole life ahead of them, bringing a series of new and exciting challenges.
Many parents worry about technology. Whilst we urge our offspring to spend less time on screens and limit their access to Facebook, we joke about relying on our children to solve our tech problems.
Whatever our own attitude to technology, we cannot ignore the fact that the ability to write code, understand the digital world and programming will be essential for our offspring. Technology is moving on at such a pace that we cannot allow our children to be left behind. Most will have their own websites and perhaps also run their own businesses. They are likely to have many careers in their lifetimes, perhaps running concurrently, and they will need the technological skills and flexibility to manage these effectively.
In response to lobbying, the UK Government launched a new computing curriculum in 2014. This requires that by age seven, pupils understand what algorithms are and that by age eleven, pupils are able to write simple programmes. This is an important step forward.
Many independent schools, whilst not following the national curriculum, are ensuring that their pupils are well- versed in computing. Coding Club is a popular option at Abingdon Prep in Oxfordshire. The basics concepts of programming are taught in the Reception class and then integrated into teaching as pupil’s progress through the school. Westwood Hay prep in Hertfordshire has a state of the art computer suite and enthusiastic IT teachers who make computing enjoyable. At Francis Holland, Sloane Square, Headmistress Lucy Elphinstone is a fan of computer coding, acknowledging the need for girls to have this skill in their future careers.
Contrary to the popular perception of stuffy, boring IT lessons, coding can be really fun and creative. Learning how to code enables children to design apps and games. It also encourages problem- solving.
So next time you have a tech problem – your iPad won’t work, or your website is down, you may breathe a sigh of relief when your children come to the rescue. And you will be grateful that they were taught computer programming at school.
Many parents ask themselves this question. Will my child have access to better opportunities? Will he or she thrive and be happy? And crucially, factoring in the cost of living in London and future university fees, can I afford it?
There has been a lot in the press recently about private (independent) schools and the pros and cons of educating your child independently.
Do the privately educated still dominate the British elite?
The Sutton Trust’s report “Leading People 2016” (1) found that professions like law, politics, journalism and medicine were still dominated by privately educated Oxbridge graduates. It is not just the traditional academic professions that are dominated by the product of independent schools either: many leading British actors and actresses were independently educated including Eddie Redmayne (Eton), Benedict Cumberbatch (Harrow) and Kate Winslett who attended an independent theatre training school.
But according to Fraser Nelson in the Spectator this week (2), this report omits to mention that “these leading establishment figures went to schools at least 20 years ago” and there is “more excellence in the state sector than the private.” This is an interesting observation and we will see whether the current generation of young people have equal success to their counterparts who attended independent schools
London’s state schools
In London, we have some excellent examples of both state and independent schools.
In the state sector, Tiffin Girls in Kingston and the London Oratory in Fulham are prime examples of free selective schools. Both boast outstanding results academically with the London Oratory being particularly brilliant for music. Both of these, and other London state schools, such as Greycoat Hospital School in Westminster where the Prime Minister, David Cameron, sent his daughter – are popular and heavily over-subscribed.
London independent schools
In the independent sector, St Paul’s, St Paul’s Girls and Westminster are among several internationally renowned schools where parents seek to gain places for their children.
As with the outstanding state schools, competition for places is tough, with many families disappointed every year.
How do I know whether state or independent is best for my child?
As a parent, choosing a school for your child is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. The real question is not whether state or independent is best, but finding a school where your child will thrive and be happy. Your know your own child better than anyone. It is important to trust your intuition and choose a school which you feel will benefit your son or daughter both academically and pastorally. And to remember that your decision is not set in stone. This simple fact takes the pressure off. If your child is unhappy in your chosen school, you have the power to change this.
If you do not find a school which you feel would benefit your child, or the school you have chosen is over-subscribed, you may wish to consider home-schooling for a period. There has been rise in UK families home-schooling. Families we have helped recently cited many reasons for doing so. These included sensitive children, who prefer the home environment and individual attention that home-schooling can offer, children retaking A levels and international families who have relocated to London for a short period, and after a busy move, prefer to have children educated at home to avoid additional stressors. Emma Thompson’s daughter recently chose to leave Highgate School and be educated at home.
For advice on London schools and home-schooling programmes, please get in touch with our team of education professionals at Lumos Education at info@lumoseducation or on 0207 6927448.