We hear from two pupils of St Margaret’s School for Girls, Scotland’s oldest girls’ school, about how they thrived in a time of uncertainty and challenge with support of teachers and the wider school community.

The sudden shift to online-learning, national uncertainty surrounding exams, and at times a complete loss of in-person engagement between students, teachers and parents has been an extraordinary experience. However, whilst this unprecedented period has tested young people and adults alike, the girls of St Margaret’s have been encouraged to approach these challenges with a positive outlook. It is clear that whenever possible the school has taken the opportunity to further strengthen the sense of community for which St Margaret’s has long been known.

When speaking to fifth year pupil, Emily Barker, who recently completed her five Higher courses, she emphasised that for her the sense of community within the school had never been more important. Although she described the move to online learning as “massive”, she reflected that every measure had been taken to minimise the impact this would have on her academic and personal growth. Virtual concerts, assemblies and online school events in addition to live interactive lessons following the normal school timetable provided pupils with a sense of normality when they needed it most. As a result, Emily and her peers continued to have the opportunity and support to excel in their studies. Noting the challenges she faced during this period of national crisis, she expressed her gratitude for the simple pleasures she now appreciates and conveyed her genuine belief that this experience, and the way in which St Margaret’s has supported her, has enabled positive personal growth.

While St Margaret’s has a long history of outstanding academic performance which has continued despite the pandemic, what matters most to Headteacher Anna Tomlinson and her dedicated team is the holistic wellbeing and continued development of individual pupils. Staff from across the school came together to develop initiatives that would enhance the wellbeing of the pupil body. From Inspirational Women Webinars, a collaboration with Mental Health Aberdeen through a walking challenge, MOVEmber Millions, to a 175 challenge to mark the school’s anniversary, staff were innovative in their ideas and dedicated in their commitment to meeting pupil needs.

Commending the school’s efforts to enable the girls’ wellbeing, 5th year student, Ashanee Hapuarachchi, who studied Higher Computing Science, Spanish, Biology, Economics, and English, expressed her appreciation for being “treated as a person and not just as a pupil” in these worrying and uneasy times. Open conversations about mental health within classes, wellbeing questionnaires, and frequent contact with the school nurse or guidance teacher all contributed towards a safe, encouraging, and positive environment for the students to be a part of, subsequently minimising the external worries and pressures surrounding the later years of education.

The exam years can be worrying in the best of circumstances, however, it was evident across the country that these pressures, paired with a global pandemic, were only going to elevate the girls’ uncertainty, and therefore, it was crucial that the school took every precaution to minimise worry, maximise teaching and ensure thorough preparation. Emily, who studied Higher English, History, Philosophy, German and Modern Studies, said that the open approach of the school and their regular updates to keep students informed of latest developments with regard to the SQA Alternative Assessment Model, provided answers and comfort, for which she was most grateful. Echoing this view, Ashanee expressed her thanks to the school, indicating that the approach to remote learning, assessment preparation and efforts to support every pupil’s wellbeing, was unrivalled. Indeed, it embodied the core values of St Margaret’s School for Girls: ambition, community, equality, hard work and respect.

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