“I remember my first day at Birkenhead – I felt nervous starting at a new school, a huge school compared to what I was used to with loads of people. Because I hadn’t been to the Junior School there was a feeling of “how many people are coming from the Junior School, they’re all going to know each other already, it’s going to be really hard to make friends”, but it really wasn’t like that. It was great, and from the first day everybody got on really well and some of the people from that first day are still my friends now, which is really nice. I remember fondly the friends that I made – as I said, some of them are lifelong friends- but I also remember fondly the teachers. It felt like a family. You could chat to the teachers about everything and it was a really nice atmosphere. I still remember some of the teachers now, especially the ones more in the extracurricular areas, such as Mrs Greenwood, the teacher who ran our Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme – I was quite involved in that, so I do still remember her quite fondly.
When I joined Upper Three, aged 11, I joined as a normal joiner. My parents were both living together at home and everything was straightforward. By the time I got to Upper Four, my third year, my parents had split up. It was all quite acrimonious and at some point during that year, the decision we had to make was whether, at the end of the year, I had to come out of the school and go to the local comprehensive to do my GCSE’s or whether there was a way we could find for me to stay. My mum, on her own, couldn’t afford the fees for me to stay, so she got in touch with the school and found out about assisted places, and it all went from there really. By the time I was at the beginning of my GCSE courses, it was all sorted. As much as my mum had tried to shield me from the uncertainty of it, I obviously felt the concern that I didn’t want to lose the friends that I’d made. Two and a half / three years in, you are quite entrenched in the school and you’re enjoying it and enjoying all the other opportunities that are coming your way (such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and all the other sports activities). I was very conscious that I didn’t want to lose all of that and so the relief of knowing I could come back the next year and carry on was great.
Most definitely my time at Birkenhead has taught me that I can achieve more than I think I can and that if I set my mind to it and I decide I want to achieve something, I can find a way to do it. My time at Birkenhead has opened doors that I don’t believe would have been opened to me if I hadn’t been to a GDST school. On the academic side, I feel that I was able to achieve my full potential, and the teachers, especially in Sixth Form, opened the doors to the universities I wanted to go to and the courses I wanted to do. They gave me a sense of belief that actually I deserved to go to a University like that and to study the course that I was aiming for. That then in turn opened to the door to the career I have now and the people that I’ve met. Life very much evolved from where my GDST education put me. But as well as that, my time at Birkenhead taught me to approach life with an attitude of respect and of inclusion. It’s very much not just the academic potential and the typical high-flying career choices and all that sort of thing that you get from a GDST school – it is just as much that the family atmosphere of the Trust is built in to you and you leave as a person who is interested in and accepting of everybody.
For me the GDST stands for opportunity, first and foremost. It also says “family” to me – when I see GDST letters and magazines come through the door or into my email inbox, I just think, “I’m a GDST girl”. I see GDST and I feel proud that I was, and still am, a part of it.
I think bursaries are more important than ever now. The reason for that is that it feels like social mobility is becoming a bigger an bigger issue. Life is hard for people these days, in facts it’s probably a lot harder than it used to be even when I was at school. I think that for young people coming through their school careers, coming through university (if that’s what they choose to do) or into their careers, being able to access opportunities like a GDST education and being able to achieve financial security can seem a whole different world away. The education you receive isn’t simply about the career or the financial security that it facilitates – it’s also about feeling like you have opportunity in front of you, feeling like you’re part of a family, feeling that you are achieving your potential and achieving big things, whatever those things are for you. Young people are entitled to feel all those things and to really believe in themselves. Financial assistance to attend a school such as a GDST one opens doors to self-belief and self-confidence and the inspiration to go and get what you want out of life”.
Associate Director, Deloitte LLP
Alumna, Birkenhead High School Academy
Class of 2000