Yorkshire school Queen Margaret’s School for Girls wins Small Independent School of the Year at the Independent Schools of the Year Awards 2023 as head of school praises staff for representing innovation and development in education in the north
At an awards ceremony in London this week, Queen Margaret’s School for Girls in Escrick, York, for girls aged 11 to 18, beat out various local and national schools to win the Small Independent School of the Year award.
The Independent Schools of the Year Awards are held annually and receive hundreds of nominations from the best schools across the UK. Despite strong representation from other schools in York, Queen Margaret’s was the only school in North Yorkshire to win an award.
The school’s headteacher, Sue Baillie, 55, credits their personal tutoring system for each student, its bespoke boarding arrangements and recent gold mental health accreditation.
“It’s a tremendous accolade to win, especially at a national level and great for the north of England; it’s a real testament to the quality of education in the north,” she said.
“From a small school’s perspective we were able to focus very clearly on the needs of our girls post Covid, and I think that’s been very much a part of the growth and development here which is recognised in the award.
“Because we are small, we can personalise and support every girl and make sure that no one is overlooked and I think that’s why there’s a place for small schools. That’s what the judges recognised in our application.
“It is a team effort. We’re a family. Everybody is involved in offering the best opportunities for the girls here; we’re a small school that enables young people to think big.”
Ms Baillie suggests that it is important that small schools are recognised nationally.
It’s good to have the opportunity to have the lens pointed more at the north of England, Yorkshire in particular,” she said.
“There’s a real innovation and development in education going on up here, not just in the South East.
“That recognition of my staff and everything that they do for girls who genuinely believe that there is life without limits is fantastic and it is a great morale booster.
“I think in a small school it’s really hard to point the finger in any particular direction because we all muck in together.
“There isn’t a hierarchy and we really do work as a team. The interaction of one of my catering supervisors with a girl at lunchtime is equally as enriching and part of the small school ethos as the interaction with the head of maths and more so in a small school than anywhere else.”
When looking to the future, Queen Margaret’s headteacher is hoping to maintain its personalised tutoring method as well as provide opportunities for girls with parents who can’t afford the fees such as bursaries.
“Education is in really challenging times; when I think about the education sector, I don’t just think about the independent sector, I also think about the challenges that my colleagues from the state sector have,” Ms Baillie said.
“I absolutely believe that nationally, but in the region certainly, we should do what we can to work together; share good practice, share resources, share teachers, share our knowledge so that we can support everybody and that would really move it up a level. [We live in] quite a diverse region [where we can] help children reach their aspirations and exceed them.
“We will always want to maintain our focus on the individual and be the voice for a relatively small school.
“I would like to be able to offer as many opportunities as I can for girls to join us if they want to; bursaries and other ways and means of supporting their time here if their parents can’t afford the fees, that’s certainly an area in development.
“I think horizon scanning, which is my job as a headteacher, I think we need to make sure we have got the education that the students need to embrace AI and to take their opportunities in design, technology and STEM subjects, which girls’ schools are particularly strong in.
“Girls’ schools take STEM subjects much more than they do in co-educational schools. We have a responsibility to make sure we’ve got the facilities for that to happen in the future.”
Despite some people suggesting that girls’ schools are ‘a thing of the past’, Ms Baillie believes there is still room for these types of schools.
“I know sometimes people wonder if girls’ schools are a thing of the past, but I think any woman in the UK at the moment would agree that there are still glass ceilings that need smashing,” she said.
“There is still a role in empowering young women to aspire, live without limits, challenge and to have the confidence to challenge.”