“When I remember my time at school, I think that being part of this learning community, consisting entirely of girls, was very constructive. Everyone was working towards the end goal, which was to be as good as you can be. It was a primary school teacher who suggested I apply to Central Newcastle during a parents’ evening. It wasn’t necessarily an option for us as a family but I went to sit the exam, and practiced a lot for it at primary school. Finding out that I had achieved that and that I was able to go to the best school in the North-East was a really valuable opportunity at age 11.
There were no real barriers to achieving anything, the only barriers that were there were the ones you put up for yourself. Expectations were high and you were very much facilitated to deliver the best results you could achieve. From that point of view, it was quite inspiring. Usually you go to your school and that’s it, but actually what you get at a GDST school is a really valuable network of schools around the UK, all working towards a similar ethos, to the same standards and you’ve got this community of women – GDST alumnae, who you can always relate to. You are always going to be a GDST girl, you are always going to have that network and I think that is valuable. And certainly when I was looking into schools for my own daughter, the first thing I googled was GDST schools in our area, absolutely.
The atmosphere at Newcastle was good fun, collaborative, and everyone was friendly and warm. The lessons were engineered towards the individual, and the teachers were very good – they realised that some students may struggle with the concept whilst others would find it easy, and they planned for that so it wasn’t a ‘one-stop shop’ for everyone. Every girl was an individual. All the teachers knew your names, the head teacher knew you, so the education was very personalised, very tailored, bespoke to each individual girl. I think that must be fairly unique.
I have wanted to do what I do since I was five. I have never wanted to do anything else. I said, ‘this is what I want’ and the school supported that, and encouraged me to achieve all of the goals that I needed to in order to apply to veterinary school. There was never any suggestion of choosing a different career path. Two teachers in particular went above and beyond to ensure that my UCAS application was excellent, they put in a lot of their personal time to help me achieve that, as I know they did with other girls as well. I think that ethos has really encouraged me to enjoy learning and to not really accept any limitations on what I can achieve, if I wanted to.
Central Newcastle High School helped me greatly with my application to university to ensure that I met all the criteria – not just academically, but also extracurricular activities – to make sure that my application shone, to show that I was a rounded individual able to cope with life at university with other life skills beyond academic requirements.
I did my undergraduate degree and then that love of education that was fostered as a girl has followed me through, so then I’ve gone on to do postgraduate study, an internship and then a residency at the University of Edinburgh. I have now returned to education because I feel that I owe it to the next generation of women coming up, women following me, that I can give something back to them, which was given to me by the teachers that taught me.
My time at Newcastle has also shaped my life in other ways. I think you get a very rounded educational experience as a GDST girl (or GPDST girl as it was in my day!). Academia was a very big part of it, but it wasn’t the sole part. We were very much encouraged to be rounded individuals, there was a lot of music, a lot of sport, overseas trips. Our respect of the local community was very much encouraged, we had these very obvious brown and yellow uniforms so we were very conspicuous in the community, and it was instilled into us that we were representatives of the school and that still sits with me, I am a representative of our profession, I am a representative of the University of Edinburgh.
I think the idea of being well-rounded follows through into how I interact with my own daughter (I have a three-year-old), and it’s very important to me that she is a rounded individual, so we do a lot of different activities together, drawing and lots of outdoor play, going to see the animals at work and all these different things. It is not just sitting down and learning from books, it is very much getting out there and taking every opportunity you can, seizing everything that is available to you.
Unfortunately, bursaries are still necessary today. Every parent is going to seize every opportunity to get the best for their child and I think if a child can be offered an opportunity that they might not otherwise get, then I think that should absolutely be encouraged. The opportunity of going to Central Newcastle certainly wouldn’t have been available to me without a bursary”.
Dr Kelly Bowlt
Senior Lecturer and Veterinary Surgery Specialist, University of Edinburgh
Alumna, Newcastle High School for Girls
Class of 2000