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Please enjoy reading Mrs Warwick's article from the Oxford Times on 9th August

Posted on: 23/08/2018

Writing in The Oxford Times on 9th August, Mrs Warwick shares her reflections on the importance and impact of schools actively engaging with their community.

Paying Tribute… 

At Didcot Girls’ School, we share a ‘thought for the term’ as a school community. The theme chosen for the last term of the school year was, fittingly, ‘gratitude’. The Head of Ethos and members of senior staff share their reflections on the thought for the term. This focus on gratitude led to a term where, in whatever direction I looked, I saw inspiring moments, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, of ‘the better angels of our nature.’ Students wrote postcards to their teachers to thank them for their support and inspiration over the year. Parents wrote to me to thank staff and express their appreciation for the school. Staff threw themselves into a ‘Guardian Angel Day’ where they became the anonymous benefactors of another member of staff for the day. Tea and cake delivered at breaktime, flowers blossomed in classrooms, favourite books posted into pigeon holes... Perhaps the highlight was girls using their Food lessons to bake cupcakes delivered with messages of gratitude to teachers and support staff around the school. Mine (delicious) was from two girls in Yr 7, Charlotte and Libbie, who wrote ‘We’re grateful to you for making a great school and community for us.’ Wow!  
 
Our Head of Ethos, Dr Khan, quoted William Arthur Ward in her opening thoughts on gratitude: ‘Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.’ So true. In my end of year letter, I wrote to families at St Birinus School and Didcot Girls’ School to thank them for their support of their children and the schools. I also thanked students, staff and governors. On reflection though, I realise I have not properly shown my gratitude for the people who have made our schools into the great communities they are today: the expert volunteers from science, the arts, business, sports, higher education, charities and community groups.  
 
The Nigerian proverb ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is powerful. It is also true that it takes a community to provide the very best education for a child. At a time when society seems fragmented on many levels and so many of us struggle for time, I am humbled by the time that so many brilliant people give to the young people at our schools.  
 
Students have a constant stream of opportunities. Amanda Jewell, a Didcot Girls’ School parent has set up the Freeborn Gallery and hosts exhibitions from local artists who lead workshops for our students. Art is integral to the school experience. Sir Ralph Waller, Principal of Harris Manchester College and Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University has hosted visits from students from both of our schools and, more importantly, helped our students understand that Russell Group universities are there for them. Mike Foster, Enterprise Adviser for both schools has set up a programme of mentoring for sixth form students by local business people. Students have pitched to the Dragon’s Den, practised online interviews, enjoyed fabulous work experience opportunities, all courtesy of this fabulous network of local business people. There is a constant stream of trips to Harwell Science Park as students learn about the research and innovation taking place at this international science hub. The Smallpeice Trust provides engineering opportunities for all of our students and awards scholarships with engineering sponsors to sixth formers. The Rotary Club provides public speaking competitions, celebrates a ‘student of the term’ from each of our schools and helps our students to run their own very successful club supporting global education. Robert Peston’s brainchild ‘Speakers for Schools’ brings inspirational speakers into our schools on a regular basis. Additionally, we have a stream of our own speakers - the Didcot Girls’ School House namesake Baroness Susan Greenfield visited this year. Sports coaches volunteer to run cricket, rugby, fencing, and football teams. There are so many companies which provide work experience placements for students from age 
twelve up to eighteen. The children’s author, Jo Cotterill, is our Patron of Reading and with poet, Elaine Baker, Patron of Writing, our young people are encouraged to read voraciously and to write courageously.  
 
This, of course, is a virtuous cycle. Because of the active involvement of the community in our school, our students feel part of their community and give back to it. Whether this is boys volunteering to take part in the community litter-pick, girls reading at the local old people’s centre, students representing the schools at the Remembrance Day parade, or the very active fund-raising for local charities, there is a reciprocity in our relationship with the community. It is no accident that there are more volunteers from Didcot Girls’ School for the National Citizenship Service this summer than any other school in Oxfordshire. Our students are raised by the community to believe that they have a voice and therefore social action is a natural part of their development. This, in turn, develops self-esteem and the fulfilment which comes from helping others and making a positive difference which is so fundamental to our sense of well-being and mental health.  
 
I have learnt so much over nearly a decade of headship. The importance of community and the richness this creates in educating and raising young people is one of my most important lessons. I am hugely indebted to these many fabulous people and pay tribute here to their legacies in developing potential and opening doors for the next generation. 
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