“When I think back on it, I don’t really remember my first day at Croydon High itself. I do remember being really excite about the smart uniform they had, and then getting the bus for the first time because it was quite a long bus journey for me. My form was 1.1, so it was nice and easy for me to remember. We were sat alphabetically as well, and it was good as my surname was Williams at the time and another girl from my primary school was ‘White’ so I ended up sitting next to her.
At Croydon, we were always encouraged to do our best, that’s what I remember. As a form group, we seemed to gel through school as we were kept in the same group right through to GCSEs (O levels as they were then!) We worked well together and were friends with each other. You made friends with different types of people, and I think that we were just nurtured. Looking back, you didn’t realise it at the time, but really just doing your best was encouraged.
My family life was normal- there was never much money. My Dad was an engineer and my Mum stayed at home looking after me and my little sister, and we had my Nan living with us. My Nan knitted my school scarf whereas my friend had the proper bought one and you know, that sort of a thing. There wouldn’t have been any hope, any prospect of me going to Croydon if we hadn’t got the bursary. I think the bursary meant a lot to my parents, because you had to choose the schools you put down and we obviously put Croydon High because it was the top school, and they were really pleased when I got in.
The Head Teacher at my primary school had this real gift for picking out people he thought had lots of potential, and there were five of us that got into Croydon High from our primary school, which was quite a lot compared with other schools at the time. We all got a free place, so he was really good at helping us, and my parents got on well with him and were part of the PTA. So although they didn’t have spare money, they liked to get involved in school. I think I was relieved to know some people from my primary school when I went to Croydon, it must have made quite a difference when I think about it. As I said, with ‘White’ being the name next to me, Claire and I did a lot of things together, so she became one of my best friends, she was one of my bridesmaids, and it all started at school.
It’s hard to quantify what my time at Croydon taught me. There were things that I didn’t enjoy like gym, or certain lessons like geography, but I think they taught us to be resilient, so that you just got on with it. When you look back at it, that’s exactly what it was, you just kept going and you carried on with the things that you could do and you would just hope that the other things would catch up. As I said, you always felt like a team, and when I got into one of the higher maths sets there was a girl that got particularly friendly with me and she used to help me with it, and you just found somebody who could help you through what you were trying to do. I think I’ve taken forward that resilience into the rest of my life because I’ve always had that background of, well I did alright, I managed to do it, so why can’t I do the next thing I want to do?
I do think of myself as a GDST girl, because you always get this great excitement when you see something relating to the GDST in our family, like whenever you see or pass the school, or my daughter is living in Newcastle now and we walked round the corner and there’s a GDST school! When she was in Sheffield at university, there was another big GDST school behind where she lived and it’s always a topic of conversation. You watch out for people who went there – like Cressida Dick – and you think, ‘I’m part of that”. I think yes, I’m still very proud of the GDST. Two of my cousins (my Dad’s sisters’ children) also got bursaries round about the same time as me, they went to Notting Hill & Ealing High and that sort of always connected us, it was extra special to us being cousins. My niece actually went to Croydon on a bursary too. She was living on a council estate and then she went to the local school and was told she could apply for a bursary with HSBC to Croydon High School and she was in two minds about it and I said to her do it, if you’re being offered this, just do it. I really feel she certainly had a completely different start in life to what she would have had if she had stayed. She’s at Oxford now, and she might’ve got in from her local council school but I’m not so sure.
It’s years and years since I got my bursary, and fees then weren’t anything like they are now, and these days it must be even harder for ordinary families to do their best for their children. I think if you can give a chance to people who are bright enough to do what they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise, then it’s a really good thing; good for them good for their families and good for society generally. And also I think it benefits the other people in the schools to have people from different classes coming in to the school, to show them how the other half lives”.
Treasurer of Garforth Brass Band
Alumna, Croydon High School
Class of 1975