At the end of the Summer Term, the Careers Library was renamed after Wendy Thompson, who first joined The Mount School York in 1977 as residential teacher of German.
A passionate linguist, she was keen to help pupils practise their language skills and experience German culture. She liaised with the British Council to set up a German exchange programme in Rheinbach, and engaged the school in cultural exchanges with the city of Münster (which is twinned with York). Wendy led the German Department instilling a passion for languages and travel for Mount pupils and exchange visitors alike.
In 2000, Wendy added to her remit the role of work experience coordinator, as well as assisting Sixth Form girls with the university and college admissions services (UCAS) process. In 2004, she became the school’s Head of Careers. It is difficult to adequately describe the significant impact of Wendy’s 45 years at The Mount has had on the lives of thousands of young women whose career aspirations became a reality, thanks to Wendy’s special brand of magic.
Wendy created The Mount’s Careers programme to be both compendious and bespoke. In accord with The Mount’s Quaker ethos, Wendy recognised that each child is an individual; when it comes to planning their futures, one size does not fit all. The benefits of Wendy’s bespoke approach are evident from the broad range of courses and universities to which Year 13 students’ progress, year on year.
“I’m not here to tell the girls what to do,” said Wendy when The Mount was announced as a finalist for Careers Guidance in the 2021 Independent Schools of the Year awards. “I help them learn how to plot their thinking, recognise opportunities, build resilience and provide a service to get them onto their career path.”
The Virtuous Circle
Recognising the importance of connecting young girls with strong female role models, Wendy began inviting former pupils to visit to school after they completed their courses. Alumnae returned to share their own UCAS stories, nuggets of wisdom from university life and to inspire pupils to pursue their respective career paths. The pupils benefit from proximity to these positive ‘near peer’ role-models, identifying their near-future selves in the same position as newly minted graduates off to conquer the world. This subtly normalises the idea of university admissions, reducing anxiety about the application process. Wendy created a self-sustaining virtuous cycle of positive female role models carrying a lasting impact on the girls throughout their lives. It inspires future generations and strengthens The Mount community beyond School years. Even after they leave Sixth Form, Mount alumnae know there is a resource here for them.
Wendy herself recognises that the careers of the future are changing. She has always strived to keep her guidance up-to-date, be it through training resources such as completing a Cambridge university-affiliated Careers Head course or connecting with the lived-experience of others. “Any time Wendy meets someone new you can see her thinking ‘Is this someone who could offer work experience or conduct a mock interview?’ She is constantly on the lookout for contacts in the various industries Mount girls are considering. On a flight to Hong Kong she once sat beside the Jewellery Buyer of a leading high street chain. By the time she disembarked, she had their full CV and contact details, all because she knew a Year 11 pupil was interested in fashion design!” comments a colleague.
Wendy’s support extends beyond her pupils. A longstanding member of staff, she is a serene source of advice and wisdom for colleagues. Governors and Senior Leaders value her counsel, and she even assists local schools with mock interviews.
Mount Girls Go Everywhere
The Mount is, relatively speaking a small school, but thanks to Wendy’s approach, Mount girls know they can achieve big ambitions. Pupils have accepted university places from an astonishing range of destinations over the past decade, including MIT, Cornell, Simon Fraser, Sydney, Hong Kong, Munich Business School, EHL Lausanne, Sorbonne, Maastrict, Norland Nannies, Central St Martins, RADA as well as, of course, Oxbridge and Russell Group destinations. University destinations are not the only preference; last year, leavers achieved degree apprenticeship places with industry-leading employers.
Lockdown did not stop Wendy from supporting pupils and providing a premium service. The Careers function quickly moved online, providing one-to-one UCAS support on Microsoft Teams. The annual Careers Week also moved online, with pupils from Year 7 to 13 able to select preferred workshops from various careers and university courses. As Covid restrictions made work experience impossible, Wendy arranged for the Alumnae Network to mentor pupils through their university applications and building a portfolio of careers-relevant experiences.
Perhaps it was those early days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, setting up international exchange programmes that hooked Wendy into encouraging young women to open adventurous new horizons for themselves. Her care for the pupils and the women they become is evident. A pile of thank you cards from over the years speak for themselves:
“Thank you for the hours you put in helping me with my uni applications and for somehow helping me get offers for Medicine at Cardiff, Leicester AND Nottingham!”
“I am grateful that you are so supportive and always there for help. Your advice gave me a better chance to get into my dream university and to generally have a better life.”
“Thank you for this wonderful experience and for helping me step away from my comfort zone.”
“I will never forget the support and guidance you gave me during my university application, and your continued help when I was trying to decide on a deferral.”
“You gave me such useful advice and great support. I still can’t quite believe I got in to Medicine and I’m sure it would have been much harder without your support.”
Whether Wendy’s leading legacy is the school’s diverse university destinations, or the living successes of the women for whose careers she was midwife, is up for debate. Regardless, her compassion, adventurous spirit and contribution to The Mount’s school community, indeed to its very ethos, is indelible.