Community work is extremely important for many independent schools. Caroline Jordan, headmistress of Headington School and vice president of the Girls’ Schools Association, explains why her pupils take part and what they, and the community, get back.

THERE is often a perception that the privileged individuals who are lucky enough to attend independent schools are cut off from the rest of the world.

They sit in their ivory towers, behind high walls, living separate lives with no connection to their communities.

In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth.

As I write this, I am preparing to head to the Hague for the IB (International Baccalaureate) Global Conference 2017.

The theme for this conference is 'Inspiring Communities'.

That theme got me thinking about how much we can – and do – inspire children and young people to work in their communities.

The IB is a fantastic, highly-regarded qualification, with students taking six different subjects rather than the standard three or four at A-Level and means young people do not have to narrow their focus at the age of 16.

Instead, they can keep their options open, for example by learning a new language or retaining a study of art or music without having to sacrifice one of the subjects that university admissions tutors demand for their chosen career path.

In addition to this, one of the best parts about the IB, in my view, is that giving back to the community is built in to the qualification.

As well as the six subjects, theory of knowledge and an extended essay – themselves an excellent preparation for the rigours of university study – students must also complete a strand known as ‘CAS’.

They must build their own programme of activities incorporating creativity, activity and especially service – volunteering in their community.

They initiate and set up their own activities and I am always struck by how quickly our girls embrace the concept and use their initiative to plan amazing programmes.

We have long-established links with several Headington primary schools, where girls have helped teach maths, listen to reading and help in PE lessons.

A group of students have also used their CAS time to become befrienders to the elderly in our community, reading, shopping and even cooking.

Girls visit the nearby Churchill Hospital in their lunch hour to play the piano. Even when they organise social events for the younger girls, the bigger picture is always in their minds – last year our IB girls raised more than £1,000 through such events in aid of ‘Girl Up’, a United Nations project to support girls.

Headington girls have volunteered at a Women’s Centre and the YMCA, helped run children’s clubs in Hong Kong and taught in a Bulgarian school.

One will be teaching in a project in a slum school in India while others have joined Amnesty International and spoken at model UN.

The IB is a perfect springboard for following your interests and getting involved in a cause you care about.

I am not exaggerating when I say that in many cases the links they have made through their CAS activities are ones which will last a lifetime.

I am incredibly proud of what each of them has achieved.

Not only are they achieving an internationally-recognised qualification, increasingly welcomed by universities, but they are also learning to be truly part of a community, breaking down barriers and challenging themselves to find the best way they can support others.

This is no ‘tickbox’, something to complete and then move on, but a fundamental shift in ways of thinking.

We need the next generation to get into that mindset and to begin a lifelong habit of thinking how they can best use their skills, talents and advantages to help those in need.

Outside the community? Our goal is to be right at the heart of it.