Clare Johnson

“The funding of bursaries opens windows to the fresh air and clear light of knowledge and opens doors to children’s lifetimes of adventure”.

“I remember many fascinating times and significant people from my years at NHEHS. My first memory of school is of my entrance test for Kindergarten, early in 1960. It was pelting with rain that day! With my mother, I ran from my aunt’s car up the driveway to the Redlands building, where we were met by Miss Dumphreys, the head of Redlands, which housed the first four Infants and Junior years. Miss Dumphreys was gentle and kind, taking me by the hand up the stairs to a classroom on the first floor where I sat at a small table opposite her. Another teacher I remember fondly is the firm-but-fair Miss Mellers in my 4th primary year. Unlike with my earlier class teachers, I can’t recall her telling me off or ever complaining to my mother about my behaviour, which had often been found wanting in a social context due to my unrecognised Asperger’s syndrome. This type of autism is more common among girls than generally assumed, with many girls masking the condition more effectively than boys can. In my year alone, two other girls may have been fellow “Aspies” and I expect there were then, and are now, more such girls in GDST schools, able enough or even gifted academically but at a disadvantage socially. I’d therefore ask and hope that the understanding, help and support which didn’t exist for us would be readily available nowadays, giving the chance to flourish in confident self-acceptance from childhood onwards. But that year, Miss Mellers proved what an amazing difference a teacher can make through encouragement rather than condemnation.

During my time at NHEHS I was called Amanda Walkden, and I was living as an only child with my parents in a small semi-detached bungalow in the London borough of Hillingdon. When I was 11 my father retired aged 65, making it impossible for my parents to keep on struggling to afford the fees any longer. I was very relieved to be awarded a Direct Grant because it meant I could continue attending the school I knew. It helped so much to be able to stay at the same school because familiarity and stability were very important for me, especially during my unsettled secondary years throughout which my father’s health was declining. The grant also enabled my parents to find enough funds to let me go on overseas trips with or through the school: to Norway, to Germany with a penfriend, and to Yugoslavia, Greece and Italy. Those three trips were fantastic experiences which left deep impressions of lifelong value.

If I hadn’t received financial assistance my life might have been very different. Attending NHEHS helped me to gain wider horizons, a less parochial viewpoint, and to meet a greater variety of people than would have been possible otherwise. It gave me enough confidence to be able to regard myself as equal at heart with others. It encouraged many interests which have brought beautiful enrichment into my life and it has enabled me to continue developing an open-minded attitude and a love of learning. From the unforgettable singing at assembly on my very first school morning, and from all the subsequent assemblies, music lessons and choral events, I gained a lifelong love for music. From the fascinating nature tables in the classrooms and from my mother, who first had the idea of sending me to a GDST school, I learned a deep appreciation of the natural world, shared by my husband and passed on to all our children.

After leaving school in 1973 I went to the University of Birmingham for a combined honours degree course in German and Italian-from-scratch. I shared a room in a hall of residence with a music student from another GDST school, Brighton & Hove High School. However, I found it impossible to navigate my way successfully around the unfamiliar environment, so I left at the end of the first term. For the next decade and more I did clerical and domestic work while following my own choice of study: classical and choral singing and theory of music. In the mid-1980s my life brightened wonderfully when I met and married my husband Malcolm and moved to Germany where he was working. I continued with choral singing there until our first child was born. After several work-related moves within Germany and Britain we settled in Falkirk, central Scotland. All three of our children are young adults now and my role as a mother has progressed easily into that of carer for our younger daughter, the one of us most affected by Asperger’s, who needs extra support. For the past fifteen years I’ve also been able to combine my interests in geography, languages and childcare by sponsoring children all around the world with World Vision. I currently sponsor five girls. Throughout my adult life it’s been so rewarding to build, in this way and with music, on enthusiasms most of which were first sparked at school.

For me, receiving a bursary meant stability, continuity and the opportunity of a broad academic education which has stood me in good stead all my life. I believe bursaries are still important now, especially since state education in Britain has been shockingly underfunded and has left so many children poorly educated and provided for. Under these conditions, prospects can be lacking for academically-inclined children from less well-off families, so until a top-quality National Education Service has been built for the entire country, bursaries for these children will remain important and most welcome. The funding of bursaries opens windows to the fresh air and clear light of knowledge and opens doors to children’s lifetimes of adventure.

In today’s world, when girls and women are still second-class citizens in many places and ways, I’d say that the GDST offers girls excellent opportunities rarely available anywhere else. It helps prove that girls do shine through! I’d advise a girl starting in September on a bursary to welcome this assistance, and then to put financial concerns from her mind and enjoy the freedom she has now – in an image I like – to spread her wings and soar into the joy of learning”.

Clare Johnson
Full-time carer
Alumna, Notting Hill & Ealing High School
Class of 1973

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