What do you call a collection of 5 Headmistresses?

Thursday this week marked a momentous occasion – the hosting in school of a meeting and lunch for no fewer than five Headmistresses of St Mary’s Calne: past, present and future. Their tenure spanned a period of over 40 years, from Joyce Walters (now Joyce Lynn) (1972-1985) through Delscey Burns (1985-1996) and Carolyn Shaw (1996-2003) to myself (2003-present) and Felicia Kirk, my successor, who takes up her post in January. All the past Headmistresses have completed pretty decent stints in post, from 7 to 13 years; it will not be often that it is possible to have so many long-serving Heads of the same school together at the same time in the same place. The photo of all five of us in a chronologically correct line in front of the school crest will be one for the history books; the only other existing photograph in the school archive of more than two Headmistresses together is a picture taken in 1985, as Delscey Burns took up her post, and it shows Delscey Burns, Joyce Walters and the great Elizabeth Gibbins (now sadly deceased).

It felt like a moment in history, and it was indeed a special occasion. What struck me was how different the Heads were, but how we all related to the same sense of what was special about the school. Each of us has seen through, or will see through, different eras of social history, and each of us has different approaches to leadership, guiding the school in uniquely different ways … but the essence of the school itself is deeply embedded and self-perpetuating, and runs through all of our time and our actions. Our role as Heads is as guardians and stewards of this essence, as much as it is as leaders of the people who make up the school at any given moment. I say often that my role at school is to ensure that the heart of the school lives and beats.

And there is more: when St Mary’s Calne was founded in 1873, it was part of the movement which liberated the education of girls and young women and helped set them on track to become equal with their male counterparts. There is still much work to be done in our society in this respect, and girls’ schools have an enormous role to play in freeing girls to become confident, self-assured young people who have an understanding that their potential is limitless, and that they have a distinct and unique role to play in the world. I feel that it is my privilege to help guide them on this journey.

So, what do you call a collection of Headmistresses? I have had many suggestions; my favourite so far, however, is “a vanguard”.

Much to do in life and work. Onwards and upwards …

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