Liz Dolby

“Helping each child to be the best they can be and opening up opportunities for them to make a contribution to society as a result, is one of the best ways you can ensure a better and happier world for future generations.”

“I remember that my first day at Putney was quite difficult really, in the sense that it was a very alien environment to me. A lot of the girls in my first class had been to Lytton House, Putney’s junior school, so they all knew each other.

As I understand it, I came in the top five pupils in the 11+ results in Richmond-upon-Thames, and as a result of that, I got a completely free place at Putney. No-one in my family had had a ‘posh’ education; no-one had been to university, so it was quite interesting for me coming from my background, which was basically working class, into that quite privileged community.

Although we got a free place, we didn’t get help with anything else, which was challenging for my family. We got the uniform list and we ended up in Peter Jones in Sloane Square, somewhere we would never normally have shopped, and with this uniform list that was costing a small fortune!

And I clearly remember standing in a very posh shoe shop in Chelsea where the shoes recommended on the uniform list were £60 – and that is in 1971! The thing was, we didn’t have anyone helping us with how to prepare. For example, we didn’t realise that, yes they said those shoes, but it turned out that most people actually went and bought shoes from Clarks.

I am a confident, outgoing person, always have been, so I wasn’t worried, I was up for it. I remember it was great to have the opportunity, but you didn’t get someone to help you through preparing to go, so it was a bit of a shock. In the end, it was fine for me because I was a fairly thick-skinned little girl, but I think if you weren’t like that, it would have been pretty difficult. I’m really pleased to hear that extra support exists now for things like school trips and uniform. It was a very different world to the one I was living in, and it became less of an issue for me as I went up the school because I could hold my own academically and I don’t think I ever doubted that I deserved to be there.

Basically, through a combination of home and school, I was socialising, living and coming into contact with the full spectrum of society, and I learnt a huge amount about the way things work across different strata, which I would never have been exposed to if I hadn’t been at Putney. It broadened my experience socially and emotionally through mixing with and developing myself alongside people from completely different backgrounds with very high aspirations.

I think I also learnt that when you get the opportunity you can succeed on your abilities. We talk about social mobility a lot nowadays, but you need the opportunity to be able to do it. Once I got it though, Putney gave me the confidence to think, yes, I might go to university. Whether that was the right decision for me I still don’t know, but I would never even have considered it without having the people to talk to me about it and explain what higher education was, because obviously it was something I had ever come across before. From my perspective, I think the type of activities and broad, stretching curriculum we were able to access was much better than I would have got elsewhere and I enjoyed that. I enjoyed sport at school and was in a number of school teams which was another unique experience for me.  Going to Putney ensured that I realised my potential and gave me a range of experiences I could not possibly have had in a school with a different ethos and fewer facilities.

I think bursaries are probably even more important today than ever before. I have been a school governor for 25 years and it is clear to me that I would have been categorised as a disadvantaged pupil in today’s language. I know how incredibly difficult it is to get those children to have personal aspirations, and think differently from the people around them. I was very lucky that I had a very stable and supportive family. They weren’t academic but they modelled good parenting and I know for most disadvantaged children that is not always the case. I think anything that can help those children get the opportunities is absolutely crucial. As an experienced Chair of Governors in the state sector, working in a big community school, I am passionate about any scheme which can provide genuine opportunities in the independent sector for the most able children. That is even more crucial in today’s society, in my view, based both on my personal experience and on my experience more broadly in the world of work. Helping each child to be the best they can be and opening up opportunities for them to make a significant contribution to society as a result, is one of the best ways you can ensure a better and happier world for future generations”.

Liz Dolby
Formerly Head of Personnel Services
John Lewis Partnership
Alumna, Putney High School
Class of 1979

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