School of excellence: St George's School

THE young women of Edinburgh's St George's School for Girls know the world. There are few countries, if any, that have not been explored by former pupils or have not been the subject of school exchanges for current pupils.

It is very much a core driver of the school under head Dr Judith McClure, who recently announced she will retire in 2009.

Dr McClure insists there is still a place in modern education for an exclusively female institution: "The focus on the individual allows flexible routes to any career they want. Being a girls' school frees them up – they're not trying to compete with boys. It's empowering. We are very interested in giving people opportunities and opportunities to lead.

"Girls' education focuses on the development of girls. They learn in different ways. 50 per cent of the population are disempowered in other parts of the world. What we try to do is give a sense of self-belief. Most of our pupils go out into the world feeling that they want to give something back."

St George's girls give back everywhere. On a recent expedition to Antarctica, current pupils met with a former youngster from the school who was running a post office in one of the world's most remote outposts

The school has big links with China. Chinese is one of the core languages offered at St George's alongside French, German and Spanish and within weeks, the school will be opening a Confucius classroom to enhance that Chinese education. Mandarin classes start at P4.

Pupils undertake exchanges with schools around the planet, often giving the girls their first taste of the world outside Scotland. They describe the experience as "transformational", says Dr McClure: "You have your own identity, but you actively belong to the world. You can't just think about learning in a classroom, we all have to learn together. We build on common humanity and appreciate each other's differences. What is terribly important is making sure they are equipped in life. It is education in the fullest sense – becoming full human beings. The older girls are really young women and role models for the younger pupils."