I joined Oxford High School to take my O and A levels after a disrupted education – this was my fourth secondary school and the third change of school in my first O level year, solely due to family circumstances. My time at Oxford High gave me the stability and support I needed to achieve my goal of getting to university.
I enjoy keeping in touch with the GDST – I read the newsletters and alumnae profiles and look on the website from time to time to see what’s happening. One thing that strikes me in particular is the collaborative working between the GDST schools, which I think has evolved since my time in the 1970s. The strapline ’25 Schools – One Family’ is so evocative. This approach seems an excellent way to teach girls the value of networking and cooperating with wide groups of people on projects. Of course, having the benefit of the internet, e-learning, online news-sharing and access to innovative learning programmes is a real advantage that post-dated my time at school! For us, being taken as Sixth Formers to see a real live play at the Oxford Playhouse was a huge adventure! And a privilege that we appreciated very much. Now the opportunities for GDST girls to experience a whole range of creative and professional activities have risen exponentially, which is excellent.
Having benefitted from a GDST education which enabled me to get into university, I wanted to give something back and help another girl to fulfil her potential which is why I chose to donate to the bursary appeal – as well as agreeing to feature as one of the case studies in the appeal.
Without financial assistance, I wouldn’t have been able to attend Oxford High, which set my feet on a very different and much happier path in life than I would have had without it – thanks to the incredible support of the teachers in helping me catch up, particularly in Maths! In giving back to the bursary fund, I am acknowledging all the teachers who helped me, and in particular, the support of our Headmistress, Miss Elaine Kaye, and my form and French teacher, Mrs Margaret Clarke, both of whom supported me through to the end of my A levels.
For me, GDST’s ‘Learn without Limits’ ethos is incredibly important, when so many girls experience both externally imposed limits – from family, from society, from the expectations of what they ‘should’ be doing, rather than what they ‘could’ be doing – and also from internal constraints due to shyness, lack of confidence, lack of trust in the unsettling world around them and what part they can play in it.
One of the things I noticed in particular about going to a single sex school was that you didn’t have the disruptive influence of the boys, you could just concentrate on the subjects you were good at. It was very much a case of girls being good at science, girls being good at games, languages, art or literature – it didn’t matter that we were girls, we were just people with those particular interests.
Young people are the foundation of all our futures, it is essential that they are helped to contribute to society to the best of their abilities and talents. We are going to need dedicated professional women in all key areas – especially given the current and future pandemics and other critical threats now overshadowing us. Not all girls have leadership or entrepreneur qualities (I didn’t!), but every girl has a role to play. It’s just as important to have well-organised, clear-thinking, committed and compassionate women in positions of support and service – whether as administrators, teachers or health workers – as it is to have high-flying CEOs or MPs. This is poignantly illustrated by the OHS alumna story of Eleanor Plews, who worked as a Junior Doctor in the Covid-19 crisis. She’s done the GDST and OHS proud, as well as her profession, you can read more on the GDST website. More stories like hers will be an inspiration both to girls currently going through their GDST education, and to alumnae donors like myself.
My experience at Oxford High taught me to enjoy working hard and to take pride in being a ‘high-achiever’, rather than this aspiration being treated with scorn or bullying. People outside the system may assume that private schools teach snobbery but the opposite is true. Although I came from a poor background (single-parent family living on benefits), the welcoming and inclusive spirit was heart-warming and inspirational. Nobody looked down on me, and both the staff and the other girls were just interested in finding out what I was good at, and enabling me to explore and develop talents that either I didn’t know I had (for example, a flair for administration – through being asked to re-organise and maintain the Careers Library!), or the interests that were already close to my heart, such as writing and music. This was an excellent foundation for the career I went on to pursue, as an Open University Tutor, Student Adviser and Faculty Administrator, helping adults to achieve their ‘second chance’ education, no matter what their background or abilities. It was very rewarding to give something back to the field of education during my career, in return for what I’d received as a GDST girl.
The GDST creates high achievers who are taught to respect authority, and to earn that respect when in positions of authority. This is vital in creating a society that is fair, law-abiding, compassionate, and active in solving the complex problems now facing all of us.
Although my contributions have been comparatively modest now we are pensioners, the assurance and acknowledgements I’ve received that every donation is being used well has been very encouraging.
The challenge as I see it in raising funds for bursaries across the GDST is simply that there are so many worthwhile charities to contribute to, such as the Red Cross, helping disaster victims in dire and immediate need. I can quite understand that some people may consider a private school system as not being quite in the same league as the Red Cross and that they might prefer to direct their money to more critical issues. But education is a long-term investment in someone’s lifelong pathway and therefore is a different ask, compared to an emergency disaster appeal. In the end, I think most people donate to charities to which they have some personal connection.
For the GDST, I hope there will be many more alumnae like me who are motivated to give back for the education we’ve received – I am very happy to contribute, whilst also supporting other charities in different ways.
I think it is important that people know that the GDST isn’t for the elite, the richest, or the most privileged – any girl with the talent and ability to cope with the work and contribute to the life of the school will be welcomed, nurtured and constructively challenged to be the best person she can be. But in the cases of those from less affluent backgrounds, bursaries are needed to admit and support those girls.
My husband is very supportive and understanding of my desire to help another girl so that she can benefit from a GDST education – he’s proud of my achievements, despite my own difficult start in life, and as an educator himself he is fully behind my donating to the bursary appeal. My older sister, who helped me gain admittance to Oxford High with financial assistance, is also very pleased that I’m now able to ‘pass it forward’ to others.
I have enjoyed the experience of supporting the GDST’s bursary campaign – both as a donor myself and as a case study contributor. From the initial contact and discussions via telephone and in writing, through to the publication of the alumnae stories and magazine articles, the team have been dedicated and organised– a real testament to the GDST, in fact!
For anyone who is thinking about giving to support bursaries at the GDST, although education may not be a ‘critical’ issue in the same category as disaster appeals, it is nevertheless ‘critical’ that every young girl is given the chance to make something of herself, and given a firm foundation on which to lead a useful and fulfilling life after school. As it says in the GDST Values statement, GDST girls “seek to participate critically, considerately and constructively in their community, society and environment”.