When the pupils at Loreto Mandeville Hall Toorak aren’t in aviation or archaeology class, studying Mandarin or joining other members of the school orchestra on a world tour, the chances are they are debating, coding or acting in a theatre production. The subject range at the independent, girls’ Catholic school is as broad as it is dynamic . “A Loreto woman is confident, courageous, independent and knowledgeable,” says Principal Dr Susan Stevens.

Situated on a leafy, 13-acre site in a suburb of Melbourne, Loreto Toorak opened in 1924 within Mandeville Hall as part of a network that has since grown to comprise around 180 girls’ schools around the world. When the visionary Yorkshire-born nun Mary Ward founded the first Loreto school in the ear ly 17th century, she did so to combat the injustice of educating boys but not girls. “Then, as now, our five stated values remain the same: freedom, justice, sincerity, verity and felicity,” says Dr Stevens.

Fostering a sense of engagement with the world the pupils live in pervades the teaching at Loreto Toorak. “Apathy is a dreadful thing,” says Dr Stevens. “We teach our pupils to care enough about politics, science and ethics to have an opinion and a strong moral position on them.” Another key theme is collaboration, both in how the pupils and the teachers work. “I am a very competitive person,” says Dr Stevens, “but the world works far better with collaboration. Since 2015, our teachers no longer work in isolation at their individual desk. We have a mobile, informal system where they sit next to a new person every day, senior staff with junior staff, so there is a constant exchange of ideas. That is how we want our children to work, too – learning from each other. It is central to our ‘we not me’ ethos.”

The choice of core curricular and elective subjects requires careful input from teachers who understand each child’s strengths and potential. In Year 9 and 10, girls also receive professional career guidance. “We are about giving our children a breadth of knowledge, but we are also about academic excellence,” says Dr Stevens. “If a girl chooses aviation, for example, the suite of subjects around it would include science and robotics.”

From the preparatory school years through to final exams in Year 12, Loreto Toorak imprints a “Positive Education” philosophy on its teaching programme. “It is about developing all-round coping abilities, such as learning how to fail and how to be resilient,” says Dr Stevens. “Positive Education also gives the girls the support needed to stretch themselves. We tell our girls that they should choose the most challenging subjects. And if a girl is getting 100 per cent on every maths test, then the teacher isn’t doing his or her job.”

Over the years, Loreto Toorak has built an active worldwide network of alumni, which offers mentoring and support to the school’s graduates as they enter their careers. “There is always advice and inspiration from past pupils, be they lawyers or journalists in Hong Kong, London or Singapore,” says Dr Stevens. And just as Mary Ward’s conviction that educating girls was the right thing to do back in the 17th century, so today’s students at Loreto Toorak grow up with a firm belief in their ability to make a difference to society. “A Loreto woman’s sense of social justice is in her DNA,” says Dr Stevens.