“Going to Kensington was quite a change. I suppose it was more formal. We moved into London when I was nine and I had been to a little village school in Buckinghamshire before that. I remember the maroon uniform, from quite early on I used to go by tube from where we lived in Paddington to High Street Kensington and walk up from there. I find that extraordinary now! I remember being told by a teacher, her name was Miss Johns I think, that I would never be any good at geography because I was no good at colouring in and I ended up doing Geography at Cambridge, so that always made me smile…
I don’t think anybody from Kensington went on to South Hampstead, so I didn’t really know anybody at all, and there were clearly a group of girls who came up from the Junior School who all knew each other, so I do remember being a little bit uncomfortable about that for a while until I got to know people. I remember the other GPDST schools in London as I was a very keen netball and, for a while, hockey player, and we played each other on a Friday afternoon, so the coaches would trundle around London carrying all the teams from the U13s to the 1st team between the Trust schools. I remember visiting a lot of them and I could still tell you the different colours of the sports uniforms.
In order to apply for a direct grant place at the time, you took an examination and you could select three schools. South Hampstead, Putney High and City of London were my parents’ choices and I had to sit exams at each of them and the direct grant was awarded on the basis of the examination results. As I recall it, half the year group had a direct grant. It’s hard to sum up seven years, but I think one thing that was really quite important was that I learned the ability to think, to marshal information in a constructive way, to put different sides of a question, to write a good essay. I think the teaching generally was very good at helping to develop that.
The other thing that I realised afterwards, although I don’t think I thought about it at the time, was that in terms of education there was no difference between girls and boys for us. South Hampstead was an all girls’ school and it never occurred to most of us that there was anything we shouldn’t do. I went on to Girton, which of course was also fairly hot on women’s education. It wasn’t until after that when I did a postgraduate degree in Northern Ireland, where I was the only girl on the course, that I came across somebody (a very nice young man, one of my contemporaries) telling me quite seriously why he didn’t think that it was appropriate that women should receive higher education, because they weren’t going to be using it!
Some of us are very good at maths and some of us aren’t, and some of us are very good at music and some of us aren’t, but it is nothing to do with our gender, it’s all to do with perhaps our individual aptitudes and the way we’re taught and where our interests lie. So that’s something I owe not just to South Hampstead, but to Kensington and to Girton as well.
South Hampstead and Kensington gave me an excellent education, which I have always valued, and a free education, which I have also always valued, because I don’t think my parents would have been able to send me to a school like South Hampstead had there not been financial support. And I bitterly regret that that the direct grant scheme is no longer available for young people today. When I look at the next generation, my children and their friends it is so much harder for them.
I don’t visit South Hampstead very often, but our year group has met up at intervals, and most recently a couple of years ago, 50 years since we were all 11. It was a great occasion”.
Alumna, Kensington Prep School and South Hampstead High School
Class of 1961 and 1968 respectively