St Mary's School

Is Teaching Compassion Relevant In The 21st Century?

Within the Hampstead area, families are surrounded by a number of excellent prep schools. As Headmistress, I am often asked what differentiates St Mary’s School Hampstead. There is so much to say about our truly remarkable school!

I am proud that we are a non-selective school that achieves academic excellence within a happy, supportive environment. We celebrate the uniqueness and achievements of every pupil and every child has the chance to shine. Our Year 6 leavers gain offers and academic scholarships from the best schools in the country.

At St Mary’s School, we continually challenge ourselves to provide the best possible all-round educational opportunities. A particularly rewarding development in the past year has been the significant investment in delivering the most up-to-date and stimulating teaching environments. Our key priority has been incorporating the latest technology to bring learning to life. We balance this focus on technology with an emphasis on creative and physical development. Music, drama, art and sports are an essential part of school life and involve everyone. Pupils also benefit from our extensive and leafy outdoor space.

But, perhaps what makes our school so unique are the spiritual and moral principles that are actively nurtured daily and that pupils will carry with them throughout their lives. At St Mary’s School, everything we do is for the benefit of the children. But, as a forward-thinking, modern school, we also have a responsibility to educate pupils about their obligations to care about wider society and the environment.

I firmly subscribe to the idea that compassion is not taught. It is learned. Children watch as well as listen. So, the St Mary’s School community collectively demonstrates what this actually means through our actions. Every opportunity is taken to emphasise that tolerance, understanding and compassion are essential to living in a vibrant and caring multi-cultural society. We advocate that our pupils try to put the needs of others ahead of their own without expectation of reward.

This principle of promoting the common good is wide ranging. The School fundraises for two charities each year chosen by the parents, staff and pupils. This is supplemented by non-monetary fundraising such as the January Unwanted Gift Drive, as well as collecting men’s clothing and provisions for local organisations. Children are also empowered to fundraise independently and take part in charity events outside of school which builds essential skills beyond the curriculum.

I always try to champion these philanthropic efforts by undertaking at least one challenge every year to raise additional funds. For example, in 2018 I walked 106km around the Isle of Wight in under 24 hours and also took part in the Sleep Out for the Cardinal Hume Centre.

Our central location has allowed us to invite more guest speakers to talk about their charity work. The visits allow the children to extend their knowledge, but also to understand what inspires these people to care for the common good. This is coupled with an opportunity to articulate the positive outcomes and tangible benefits that our community can achieve when we work together.

In addition to our visible fundraising efforts, our whole school community is encouraged to be reflective and generous to those around us. Parents and staff perform a vital role in leading by example in terms of values, attitudes and actions, as well as providing many opportunities for pupils to practice these behaviours.

We have established a formal programme of opportunities for pupils and staff to become more active beyond the School gates and within the local community. Furthermore, we support local organisations such as hospitals and local care homes at events throughout the year. St Mary’s also assists other schools by inviting them to use our facilities and by making significant donations to specific development projects.

In the last academic year, we have extended a shared goal to reduce our environmental impact and protect what we value today for future generations. This has been demonstrated by a conscious move to purchasing more sustainable and traceable materials. We continue to transform our approach to reduce, reuse and recycle school waste and procuring eco-friendly products wherever possible. Other student-led initiatives include expanding our Walk To School week to help reduce air pollution and growing more fruit, vegetables and herbs in our grounds.

Finally, inclusivity is a critical tenet of our approach to social responsibility. As a charity ourselves, the School endeavours to extend access to our high quality Catholic education by offering full bursaries.

I believe that instilling these long-term values of social responsibility and awareness is crucial. In turn, I am delighted that our pupils are beginning to discover the inestimable rewards of being kind, considerate and compassionate to others.

Harriet Connor-Earl, Headmistress