Welcoming our guests  

We welcomed a record number of families to St Augustine’s Priory for our Open Day on Saturday 5th March.   After visiting our café for refreshments, families were taken on tours around the school by our Senior School guides.  There were activities in every subject area, ranging from mono-printing in the Art Room to making comets in Astronomy to Futoshiki puzzles in Maths.  From the Nursery to the Science Block the school was a hive of activity.  We were pleased to receive some wonderful feedback from the day including this lovely comment, ‘Just wanted to send you a short note to thank you for organising such a brilliant tour yesterday.  Needless to say, we were very impressed by the school and, in particular, our tour guide.  She was superb.’

After their tours parents and children gathered in the Chapel to hear our Headteacher, Mrs Raffray, welcome our guests and tell them about St Augustine’s Priory.  After this our Head Girl, Billie Morrison, gave a speech telling the families about her experience at St Augustine’s Priory.  We thought you would be interested in reading Billie’s speech:

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‘Good Morning parents, girls and alumnae. It’s lovely to have so many of you here today. My name is Billie and I am Head Girl for my final year here at St Augustine’s Priory. I hope you have enjoyed your tours around our beautiful school, a place that may be a loving home for some of you in the future and for others here, is a cherished past. For those of us that have been guiding you around, we are privileged to be able to say that this is our present.

As Head Girl, I am asked to speak to you about the numerous reasons I love St Augustine’s Priory and why I feel that this is the school for your daughters. Parents, I could relay facts and statistics, quote the prospectus and the ISI reports, try earnestly to persuade you that this is the place for your daughter to grow up. But that didn’t persuade me when I was shown around on my first Open Day. When I was shown around by our previous Headmistress, she took us into the Fox Hollow IT Suite and told us that it is called Fox Hollow because of the fact that they found a dead fox under the floor! It was the stories that brought this place to life for me as a nervous 11 year old girl. So it is stories I shall give you. But which ones? There are so many to choose from. Funny, sad, dangerous – a few I probably shouldn’t mention in front of my teachers! But I have narrowed it down to five. Five memories that for me encapsulate everything it is to be a student at St Augustine’s Priory.

Number 1: Last year, a Year 13 student asked me if I was the girl who used to sit alone on the bench under the Music Room window with my nose in a book. And my first story takes place right there – under the Music Room window. As I just mentioned, I was an introverted girl who would spend most of her breaks in the library and on this particular day had rustled up the courage to venture outside to continue reading. As I sat, I saw three Sixth Formers walking towards me. They all plonked themselves down in front of me and one asked about my book – what was it about. For an entire lunchtime these girls who were seven years older than me made a conscious effort to speak to a girl they saw sitting alone and keep her company. That is one of my fondest memories from my early years here which, personally, were difficult years. As the sibling of a brother with a serious heart condition, this emotional support has really meant a lot to me, especially during Year 7 when my brother had a very serious operation. I recently discovered that my Form Mistress had consistently been in daily contact with my family and I realised that although I was unaware at the time, I was in caring hands whilst at school during this difficult period.

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My second story is a tale of my brief time in the school’s cricket team. It was set up by a few friends and I who did not like netball. Personally, I do not have the coordination to throw and run at the same time, it turns out to be much more difficult than it looks as proven but the torn ligaments in my right arm. That was fun but that is a story for another time. Now, I’d never played cricket before but some of my friends had. Our very first match after two training sessions was against St Pauls Girls’ School – the county cricket champions for our age group. We lost 143 runs to 6. When we finished the game, dejected and upset, our teachers asked us what was wrong. ‘We lost’ we said. ‘Yeah, we knew you weren’t going to win’ they said. ‘But it’s not about the winning, it is about the teamwork and the effort. And you all put in lots of effort.’ Our team all received certificates the following assembly. On a side note, this is not a comment on the school’s wonderful sports teams who win in abundance. Our teachers knew we would lose but played our team anyway. I have never forgotten the values I learnt in my one and only cricket match – that sometimes losing having tried your best is better than not competing through fear of losing.

My third story happened to me when I was in Form III. We had this great Polish choirmaster, Mr Maryniak, who ran our music lessons and was, and still is, one of my all-time favourite individuals. He was brilliant as a musician and as a teacher. He was a bit eccentric – for example we had to sing a song where we all went silent for an entire verse for an imaginary girl named Dinah to sing her solo – but he was great. And at the end of one of our first lessons, he pulled me aside and asked me to sing a few bars of a song for him. He asked me to join the Chapel Singers, his choir, and I did so. Seven years later I am still loving it and I love singing and chatting with girls from all different years in our choir. What still amazes me is that he heard me. In a room full of girls, he heard my voice and decided to give me a chance. That’s what this school is like. Except every teacher is listening for a variety of different things. Because of the closely knit nature of this school, the small class sizes and year groups with mentors and Form Tutors, all my teachers know me inside out. They know whether I am having a bad day just by the way I walk into the classroom. Staff here are always available with a listening ear, or maybe just taking five minutes out of their timetable to go through that piece of Maths or Russian homework you were struggling with. And every girl I’ve known at this school feels the same way.

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My fourth story happened very recently, a few weeks ago in fact, but needs a bit of background. After unearthing a profound love of physics, (I was a humanities girl to begin with!!), this adoration of the subject was nurtured by the passionate teachers of St Augustine’s. This year, I am taking part in the VEX robotics competition run by girls into STEM, an organisation dedicated to encouraging girls into science, technology and maths. We won with our robotics kit in another competition and now have to build and programme a robot to throw balls into a tall net. It sounds pretty straightforward doesn’t it! It was in this club that my fourth story takes place. My two physics teachers are great – mental in all the right ways. One will happily talk for hours about any obscure physics topic, getting overly excited by things as utterly riveting as the National Grid. My other teacher is a bundle of joy wrapped in a thick shell of sarcasm and wit. Our robotics team had been working for five months on our bot. Programming it wirelessly was proving impossible and the maths involved in the building was unexpected – morale was low. But then the robot moved. In a circle but it moved all the same. And the room erupted. Sixth Form, teachers and girls of a mixture of ages jumping up and down, hugging each other and yelling that this little metal crab bot had moved an inch to the left. We were ecstatic! This joy was found in a passion for a subject, kindled by teachers who were just as excited as we were.

My fifth and final story is a little ridiculous. It is short, sweet and possibly my favourite moment of the last few years. At the end of sports day last year, the Sixth Form and a few other years were all on the way back up to our common room when someone squirted a water bottle at her friend. The friend justifiably squirted her back but missed and hit another girl. Minutes later we are all filling jugs, bottles, bowls and just soaking each other. Mixed year groups, most of us months away from applying to university, are running around the field like kids, laughing and just messing around. This kind of cohesion between year groups is a wonderful example of the school’s ethos, “Freedom to Flourish”.  At St Augustine’s we are given the opportunity to play, and my year group are often running around in the field with the younger years – most recently a massive game of bulldog with Year 6. We are given space to grow at our own pace. The older girls consciously look out for the younger ones, whether as class councillor, a Big Sister or whilst chatting with a Year 7.

I am really proud to be Head Girl for my final year. The competition for this role was fierce as so many of my peers feel passionately about this school and want to give back to the community that has supported and cared for us over the last six years. In fact, one of my closest friends and now Deputy Head Girl said that she has “not blood, but St Augustine’s tartan running through her veins”.

When I was sitting where you are, I was really excited by St Augustine’s Priory. Excited by the prospect of “real science” with lab coats and test tubes and explosions! Excited by the beautiful grounds, the field, orchards and the meadow. Excited by the prospect of school trips around the world! I decided on that afternoon that this was the place for me. And six years later I have broken 14 test tubes, burnt the arm off a lab coat, run around that field more times than I can count; I have seen the Northern Lights in Iceland, amphitheatres in Greece, performed in cathedrals in Malta and rolled down mountains in Wales. I love this school and as I enter my last year I am really very sad as I don’t want my time here to end. I consider myself lucky to have had the privilege of growing up at St Augustine’s Priory, it has given me so many stories and what is turning out to be such a happy ending. Applying here opens the book, turns the first page. But the people here, the experiences you will have, the people you will meet, the things you will learn. Those are the stories you will be telling for the rest of your life. I know I will.’

Billie’s inspirational speech encapsulates all that we offer here at St Augustine’s Priory.  Not only the academic life, the passion for the subjects shown by staff and girls, but the care, the love and the sheer joy of being an Augustinian.

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