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Community Culture

At last week’s staff meeting, my colleagues burst into spontaneous applause.

The reason was that we had just shared with them that we would be welcoming 14 new pupils on fully-funded bursaries in 2022: 1 in 5 of our new joiners in Year 7 will be on a 100% bursary this September. We have been able to do this thanks to the generosity of our parent and alumnae community.

Our community has a long history of welcoming pupils from all backgrounds. Recently our Year 6 pupils had the privilege of hearing from Beata Planskoy, a German Jewish evacuee who escaped Nazi Germany in 1939 and came to South Hampstead. The girls were captivated by her stories of the school in WWII, not least its relocation to Berkhamsted in the Hertfordshire countryside.

The GDST has a long history of welcoming pupils from all socioeconomic groups. Until 1976, GDST was the largest provider of free independent school places in the UK with up to a third of pupils in some of its schools on free places. And GDST schools today provide more bursary places than the national average for independent schools. Welcoming a diverse student body is very much part of the GDST’s mission, and South Hampstead’s own.

Parents sometimes choose a GDST school because they somehow feel more ‘grounded’ – modern rather than traditional, friendly rather than formal, democratic rather than hierarchical. That sort of culture is, I hope, very much the South Hampstead culture too. We want to be connected to the real world, we want to be part of our local community, and we want our girls to leave us with a sense of balance and perspective. Having pupils from different sorts of backgrounds in our school enriches all our lives and so thank you for helping us to promote this critically important priority for the benefit of all our pupils.

Having pupils from different sorts of backgrounds in our school enriches all our lives.

The idea of community has been fundamental to our conversations about Ukraine as the crisis has touched a number of families in our community. You may be interested to see the assembly (and accompanying slides) I gave to pupils a few weeks ago; please encourage your daughters to complete our whole school walk over the break, in aid of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC). We have been mobilising donations for the DEC at our end-of-term events recently – at various concerts, the staff House netball match, via badge-selling, and today’s non-uniform fundraiser.

A community’s culture expresses itself in manifold ways – from the incredible support so many parents and alumnae show for bursaries at South Hampstead, to the rather more prosaic daily teacher cover rota. I mention this as the cover list has been a little longer in the last week due to Covid, with half a dozen colleagues isolating. Early every morning, our Head of Timetabling, Mr Willett, sends all the staff an email telling the teachers whose lessons are being covered by whom. And, quite unbelievably, he has managed to find a different, joyous chromatic theme to display this list for every single day of the academic year so far… In the last week alone, we have had a cherry-blossom theme, a ‘tastefully curated arrangement of roses, sunflowers, statice, craspedia and solidago’ and, most recently, some appetising Cadbury’s Crème Egg and Mini Egg hues…

And from chocolate it is only a small step to holidays. I wish Year 11 and the Sixth Form the very best for their revision, and much rest and inspiration to our younger years. Mehr Licht!

Blog post by Vicky Bingham, Headmistress from 2017 to 2023.  

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