Alison Reynolds

“As part of our research for this campaign, we discovered 3 sisters who all attended what was then Brighton & Hove High School in the 60s and 70s, all benefitting from the direct grant system. We felt it would be impossible to ask just one to share their experiences and so decided to include Alison, Hilary and Helen together.

The sisters told us: “We were always aware that without financial support, we would not have been at the High School; at the time, we probably took it for granted as children do, but we are all eternally grateful for the educational opportunities we had.”

“As schemes like direct grants and assisted places no longer exist, if you are able to make a donation  to support bursaries, please do it! You could transform the life of a child.”

I was already at the junior school so I knew about the system of ‘going up’ to the senior school. The new girls arrived first to settle in, and then we were all taken across the road to the senior school to see our new classrooms and meet our new classmates. And I remember feeling really lucky because my new form teacher was the mother of my best friend from the junior school so I knew her well. She was the perfect form teacher for a slightly apprehensive 10-year-old and made the process of adapting to the senior school a smooth one for us all.

I remember most things about my time at Brighton fondly because I absolutely loved school, and, when I look back on it, some of my teachers had a big impact on my life.

I had an English teacher who, by her inspirational teaching, helped me enjoy the subject, with the result that I ended up taking it for A-level, which I would never have thought possible before she taught me. And I had a music teacher who opened up my musical horizons; he gave me the freedom to find myself as a musician and really broadened my knowledge. I was the only one doing A-Level Music, so I had more space to explore areas that were of interest to me, and he facilitated that.

My Headmistress, Jill Turner, was very important, particularly at the end of my time at school. She was very supportive when my father left our family and things unravelled at home. This happened over the summer of my Lower Sixth so the repercussions for my A-level year were considerable. Miss Turner found extra money for my music lessons which eased the stress on the family finances and made it possible for me to continue the lessons I needed to prepare for conservatoire auditions. And in other ways that year she went the extra mile in terms of helping me to cope with the devastating event which had come at an important time in my life.

My father was a clergyman in Shoreham-by-Sea, and my mother stayed at home with us when we were small. When my brother (the youngest of the four of us) was born, she started a nursery school in the Rectory, and when he started prep school she taught there. Clergy aren’t on big salaries and the four of us were doing a lot of music and ballet, so there wasn’t much money to go round. I know that without the direct grant system we wouldn’t have been at the High School. I always knew I was attending a direct grant school, but I am not sure at what point I became aware of what that actually meant to me personally. But the financial assistance certainly didn’t colour our lives at school in any way at all, we didn’t feel different. Without the direct grant, we would have attended the local secondary school which, at the time, was not a good school, and I am sure I would not have had such a good musical education there.

In many ways, I took being at Brighton for granted and it never occurred to me that I couldn’t achieve the things I wanted to do. I knew that when I left school I wanted to study music and train as a pianist, but teachers at school were keen to see me develop my academic side as well – this led me to take the Joint Course at Manchester, which offers the Royal Northern College of Music’s instrumental training and the University’s academic degree at the same time. It was demanding but it was just perfect for me. I did five years there and then was taken onto the College staff to teach aural training to undergraduates and piano in their Junior Department.

In 1981 I got married and moved to London, and taught the piano at Putney High School for nine years, after which we moved to Nottingham for my husband to train for ordained ministry in the Church of England. Whilst my husband was at college, I combined piano teaching at Nottingham Girls’ High School with study for a part-time Certificate in Theology at the same college. When my husband was ordained, we moved to Cheshire where I worked at an independent school in Oldham and returned to The Royal Northern College of Music’s Junior Department. Twelve years ago we moved to Nottingham, and I am now part of a large team of Visiting Music Teachers at Uppingham School as well as continuing my work at the RNCM. I have been teaching the piano for over forty years now; I do it because I love it, and it is extremely rewarding to be able to pass my love of music on to others.

My time at Brighton gave me opportunities I wouldn’t have had if I’d stayed locally for my education, and I think I might well have sunk without trace in a much bigger school. The financial assistance given by the direct grant system enabled that to happen. To girls who have a bursary today I would say, grasp every opportunity with both hands. You’ve got such amazing opportunities and facilities that we didn’t have back in the 60s and 70s; just make the most of it and maybe you will be in a position to help others one day.

As schemes like direct grants and assisted places no longer exist, independent school fees are becoming beyond the means of many parents, so I do think it’s important to be able to provide assistance to families like ours, who would benefit so much from that help. If you are able to make a donation to support bursaries, please do it! You could transform the life of a child.

As a GDST alumna, and having taught at two GDST schools, I feel as if I am part of a family. I have such happy memories of my time at school and that means a lot to me.

Alison Reynolds
Piano Tutor, Royal Northern College of Music Junior School and Uppingham School
Alumna, Brighton & Hove High School (now Brighton Girls)
Class of 1975

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