SHS girls experience a day in Oxford

Georgie P talks about one of our recent trips to Oxford, for pupils to get a flavour of what life is like at the university.

In February, a group of Year 11 students went to visit the University of Oxford with Mr McDermott and Mrs Leckie. We had a lovely day, touring a variety of colleges as well as getting a feel for the town itself: what it might be like to live there as a student in a few years’ time.

We began at St. Hilda’s college: a fairly new college quite far out from the town centre. After a talk about the general admissions process for Oxford (and what we might be doing from now on to strengthen our applications!), we had the opportunity to question some students in small groups. They then gave us a college tour, followed by a great lunch in their dining room — they are, apparently, the only Oxford college not to have long, Harry-Potter style tables!

Following that, we visited Exeter and Worcester colleges, both of which are a little more “traditional” Oxbridge with stunning architecture (I was amazed to learn that Worcester boasts the oldest student accommodation in the world that is still in use). In Worcester, Bethan, an old Surbiton girl, showed us around, and we also had the opportunity to question a professor.

It was fantastic to see such a range of colleges and also of students — between them, they were studying a whole range of subjects, which meant that everyone on the trip could ask relevant questions. Despite the rather cold February weather, it still managed to be a special day out, and everyone was very grateful for the teachers who took us to Starbucks before our train back to Surbiton! Overall, the trip made us much more aware of what Oxford is like, as a place to study and a place to live, and I would definitely recommend that next year’s Year 11 apply.

A Study in Cicero: Jen M creates a modern Ciceronian style speech

For all those students of Cicero out there, see if you can spot some of his stylistic features in our student’s creative piece on whether South Korea should attack the North.

Proposition for South Korean action to remove Kim Jong Un from power and attempt to restore personal freedoms in North Korea.

“Strong action” is the recommendation of the UN Security Council. Yet what has been done to achieve this? Nothing. If we value our livelihoods, the livelihoods of those stuck over the northern border, or the very concept of liberty itself, we, ladies and gentlemen, must act to stop the impending savagery of Kin Jong Un.

In 1994, a North Korean negotiator threatened to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire”, a clear, violent threat constantly reiterated – almost annually in fact. When Kim Jong Un came to power, he threw out the US – Jong Il peace talks, showing his glaring maleficent intentions towards the whole wide-reaching world. North Korea has claimed successful nuclear weapons tests in 2006, 2009, 2013 and now 2016. An empty threat? We must, legislators, avoid the tyranny of low expectations: that subtle but devastating form of personal sabotage. If North Korea attacked and we had done nothing, who could we blame for the death of our citizens? Who could we blame for the destruction of our land and industry? Who could we blame for the injustice and war and misery that such an event would certainly bring? The intention is there, at the very beating heart of North Korean government. Indeed, who could we blame but ourselves? Continue reading “A Study in Cicero: Jen M creates a modern Ciceronian style speech”

Saskia R explores interpretations of Achilles

Achilles is one of the most well-known Epic heroes as the son of a goddess and the greatest fighter in the Trojan War, his battle prowess has become legend. However, throughout many depictions of the character’s life, such as Homer’s The Iliad and Madeleine Miller’s The Song of Achilles, other characteristics are prominent in Achilles, his anger being the most prominent. Most epics have been known to emphasise the emotions of characters to make them more dramatic and The Iliad is no different, as the anger of Achilles and the repercussions of his withdrawal from the Achaean army are crucial to the development of the story. However, both Homer and Miller indicate that it is the blemish of his honour which causes Achilles to isolate himself from the war. Interestingly, while his actions are justifiable when considering him as a Greek hero, it still remains that the character of Achilles is interpreted by many readers as selfish and hyperbolic. He is insinuated as more selfish in The Iliad, as the epic, unlike Miller’s novel, does not present its characters in a natural, mortal light, but rather in a hyperbolic way. This therefore means that a modern reader is unable to empathise as much as a contemporary reader, due to the change in society’s idea of a hero. Miller succeeds in making the actions of Achilles seem more humane, as she portrays him from a young age which allows the reader to emotionally develop with the character and therefore understand his anger at his unfair treatment. The depiction of Achilles in Miller’s The Song of Achilles as both demi-god and human, rather than Homer’s portrayal of him predominantly as a hero, makes the character seem in some ways more heroic as he overcomes the restrictions of a mortal.

By Saskia Reed


Emily W explores Pompe Disease


I recently watched the film Extraordinary Measures, which tells the true story of John Crowley and his family as they fight to develop a drug to treat Pompe disease. I found this film truly moving as it illustrates the extremes families are prepared to go to for each other, and shows how perseverance and love can drive change.

Upon watching this film, I decided to research Pompe disease on the internet and also read a section about it in the book ‘Neurology in Clinical Practice Third Edition’ in order to extend my knowledge and understanding further.

The Crowley Story

In 1998, when Megan Crowley was fifteen months old, she was diagnosed with Pompe disease. Her brother Patrick, seven days old at the time, was diagnosed with the same disease four months later.

Pompe disease is a rare genetic disease which results in profound muscle weakness, and therefore Megan and Patrick and the majority of Pompe sufferers have special wheelchairs, as they are unable to walk properly. It is caused by mutations in the gene which results in the deficiency of an enzyme called acid alpha-glucosidase (GAA). This deficiency leads to excessive amounts of glycogen accumulating in the body’s tissues, resulting in major damage (of the heart and skeletal muscles in particular). Most children die from respiratory failure or cardiac arrest as their heart slowly enlarges. Megan and Patrick were both expected to die within the first few years of their life. However, despite severe respiratory distress and against the odds, the children pulled through a while longer. In 2000, John left his job and he and his wife Aileen formed a biotechnology company to develop a drug to save the lives of their two youngest children. They, along with the help of scientist and researcher Dr William Canfield, developed the life-changing drug Myozyme, which produces the GAA enzyme and is consequently able to help treat Pompe disease in children. Therefore, in 2003 Megan and Patrick Crowley, aged 6 and 5 years old, started receiving the drug their dad had developed and it has reversed the enlargement of their hearts and improved their muscle strength. This drug was a remarkable invention and has allowed 1000s of young Pompe sufferers to survive beyond their infant years, and has given them the opportunity to live better lives. It has given those children living with Pompe worldwide, their first fighting chance at life.

More about Pompe

Pompe disease is an autosomal recessive condition, meaning that each parent of an affected individual must pass on a copy of the mutated gene. It is for this reason that is often common among siblings, as illustrated in the film Extraordinary Measures. Additionally, this is part of the reason that the disease is relatively rare- affecting 1 in 40,000 people.

The four clinical phenotypes are distinguished by the age that you are diagnosed with the disease: infantile, late infantile, juvenile, and adult forms. The infantile form is characterized by progressive weakness, profound hypotonia (decreased muscle tone), and heart failure. The main features of the late infantile, juvenile and adult forms however, are motor delay and progressive myopathy (muscle tissue disease).

By Emily Wight

Want to know what the Oxbridge interviews are really like?


Here are a great selection of reports from SHS girls who have gone up for interview. Choose your subject and enjoy thinking about the types of questions they were asked!

Arch and Anth Real Interview Reports

Architecture Real Interview Reports

Classics Real Interview Reports

Economics and PPE Real Interview Reports

English Real Interview Reports

Geography Real Interview Reports

History of Art Real Interview Reports

History Real Interview Reports

Maths Real Interview Reports

Philosophy Real Interview Reports

Science Real Interview Reports

La Fiesta del Chivo: Spanish novel, by Peruvian writer, portrays the brutality of living under a dictatorship in Dominican Republic

Ellie Wild, first year Spanish student at Oxford, writes about a novel she studied in her first term: La fiesta del chivo by the Peruvian Nobel Prize in Literature Laureate, Mario Vargos Llosa.


In my first term studying Spanish and Linguistics at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, a variety of texts from the Spanish-speaking world have captured my interest. However, by far the most eye-opening has been Mario Vargas Llosa’s La Fiesta del Chivo. Not only does it keep you gripped throughout with its cinematic cliff-hangers and effective withholding of information, but it also poignantly reveals the horrors of living under a dictatorship, which certainly made me appreciate the democracy we take for-granted in British society. As someone who knew almost nothing about the history of the Dominican Republic, I was shocked that such brutality and oppression could have taken place within the lifetimes of current Dominican citizens, and that these people did not enjoy true democracy until the year I was born!

Something particularly interesting about La Fiesta del Chivo is that it departs from much of the other popular literature produced during the Latin American literary boom, and indeed from any Latin American literature which I had previously read, through its rejection of magical realism. This enables Vargas Llosa to portray the atrocities of the dictatorship in a terrifyingly realistic manner, which is certainly moving, and in places deeply disturbing. I would definitely recommend getting hold of the English translation (The Feast of the Goat) – it will really make you understand the true value of free will!