“I started at Portsmouth High School in September 1965. Memories are patchy but I do recall that my blazer was too big, my skirt too long and I had to wear a felt hat. And whereas previously school was a few hundred yards away from home, now I had a 20-minute walk to the bus stop and a 30-minute journey on a bus.
The first day I was terrified, but I do remember Miss Glenister, my form mistress being exceptionally kind. Most of the girls seemed to know one another from Dovercourt, but at least there was one person in my class whom I knew from junior school.
One of my fondest memories is of Miss Bowditch, my German teacher. She had a reputation for being fierce, but she taught me one of the most valuable lessons that I learned at school. She made me realise that if I focused and applied myself, even the most difficult tasks became easier.
At home money was tight. My two much older sisters had left home and my father had retired through ill health. My mother was a housewife; she worked during the War but she missed out on an education so that her brother might attend a good school. Needless to say, when we learned that I was to receive a bursary, she made it very clear just how precious an opportunity I was being given.
I remember the moment my mother opened the envelope and revealed that I had passed the 11 Plus. Then she read out which school I was to attend, Portsmouth High School for Girls, and promptly burst into tears. I found her reaction bewildering, and it was a while before I could understand what she saw quite plainly. Looking back, I realise what a tremendous privilege the bursary was. It shames me that I took so long to appreciate my mother’s response.
Both of my parents were so proud. In the local area, PHS provided the best girls’ education, but without a full assisted place, there would have been no chance of my going there. As it was, my parents struggled to set money aside to buy the uniform. Music lessons and trips away were pipe dreams.
As a bursary recipient, my experience at school was on the whole pretty good. A few girls were not always kind, but I think that actually served to make me more resilient. It stood me in good stead. In the 70s, 80s and 90s, the work place for women at a senior level was ‘testing’ – I spent much of my business career the only woman in the room. My time at school gave me the confidence to keep going.
I would like to think that even without financial assistance I would have still possessed the grit to persevere and do well. But, who can tell? More than anything I wanted to go to university. This was at a time when there were places for fewer than 4% of Sixth Form leavers.
Portsmouth High School taught me confidence, resilience and a desire to expand my horizons. By the time I left for university, I believed that if I set my mind on achieving something, I could do it. Where that determination and ambition sprang from, I have no idea, but that was just the start.
There were few women in senior positions in the City in the 80s and 90s, but I was one of them and in 1992, I was honoured to receive the Network Award for ‘Woman in Financial Services’. I moved on to become the spokesman for the investment funds industry and subsequently to run my own business. And now I have retired, I am busier than ever, and probably every bit as determined.
In an ideal world there are many things that would be free of charge, but we live in a very real world and most things come at a price.
Understandably, parents want to see their children do well and many believe that the best start in life is a good education, perhaps at a fee-charging school. If that is their top priority, the family budget is assessed and often sacrifices can be made and are made. But sometimes, without the advantage of a bursary, the stretch is too far, and in such instances gifted, hard-working, keen-to-learn children will miss out. There will always be bright pupils who need someone to help open the door to a fine education, Bursaries are just as important now as they were in my day.
And for girls receiving bursary awards today, my advice would be to have courage and to recognise the need to earn it.
If there are individuals and organisations willing to offer financial support, I can only encourage them. A good education is never wasted and you may just open up a whole new horizon, not just for the person you help, but everyone else whose lives they touch.
The GDST is a force for good in girls’ education. Girls are proud to attend a GDST school.
Long after I left Portsmouth High School in 1972 I returned to serve as a governor and subsequently Chair of the School Governing Board from 2013 to 2019. It was time to pay back. I could not have enjoyed the experience more, nor have been more proud”.
Anne McMeehan Roberts
Company Chair and charity trustee
Former financial services and communications professional and Chair of Governors at PHS
Alumna, Portsmouth High School
Class of 1972