I served as Head of Sheffield High School for Girls for over 14 years, retiring in August 2018. As well as being a member of staff, two of my daughters also attended Sheffield High. I am pleased to stay in touch with colleagues both at the school itself and the GDST more widely, as well as receiving alumnae communications.
During my time as head teacher, I saw first-hand how powerful bursaries can be in changing lives – not just the lives of the recipients themselves, but also for their families and in raising aspirations of others within their community.
The most important part of the GDST’s mission for me is for the schools to be as inclusive as possible so that the high-quality, well-rounded education provided can be available to all girls, regardless of their background.
The aim of providing leading ‘girls-first’ education is as relevant today as it was when the Trust was founded in 1872. I think it is important that current and future pupils and their families understand the Trust’s founding principles and the important role they can play in ensuring that future generations are still able to benefit from the outstanding education offered.
As a Head of a GDST school, I always felt very proud and privileged to be part of a forward-looking organisation with a clear purpose and sustained focus on values. As a parent of two daughters who attended a GDST schools, I have seen the confidence and self-belief they developed during their time at school and the wider contribution they are now making in their professional lives.
A couple of months ago, I chose to donate to the joint Academies Student Support Fund to help bridge the issues of digital divide experienced by some students over the lockdown period at the two GDST academies. I have appreciated seeing the progress made towards reaching the target that was set for the appeal – too often, when donating to an appeal, there is little feedback about how the money is being used.
In thinking about the GDST’s ongoing fundraising efforts, we are facing very uncertain times and it is likely that this will impact the ability to raise philanthropic funds for all types of causes. There is also a risk that younger alumnae, influenced by current negative perceptions circulated by the media about independent education, will not consider donating to bursaries in the future – it is important therefore that the GDST continues to focus on and communicate regularly the transformative impact bursary awards have in narrowing divisions in society.
In terms of the future of bursaries, in an ideal world, I would love to see the return of an open access scheme (similar to what was on offer at the Belvedere School (now the Belvedere Academy) back in the early 2000s, funded by GDST and the Sutton Trust) so that any girl, regardless of her background, who met the entry requirements for a GDST school could attend.
Although I am somewhat biased as a former staff member and mother of two alumnae, I wish more people knew that the 25 schools that make up the GDST family are not exclusive private schools, but instead are inclusive places where girls from all backgrounds are welcomed and able to thrive.
I am pleased to be able to donate when I can to the GDST and I would encourage others to do it too. You can see just how much of a difference your donations can make when you hear direct from the students about what it means to them and how they want to make the very most of the opportunity they’ve been given. It’s then you know what you’ve given counts.