“My first memory of Sutton that stands out the most is probably my interview with the Headmistress. I wasn’t nervous before I went in, but then I was immediately blindsided by her first question, after all the niceties were done, which was, ‘what was your favourite TV programme?’ My mum had told me that I should answer Panorama to this, but even then I knew that that wasn’t authentic, so I said ‘Allo ‘Allo, which was the truth. I told her that it was a comedy set in the Second World War about the occupation of France, and she sternly said, ‘is that supposed to be funny?’ and I cautiously said, ‘yes, yes, I find it very funny’, it was at this point that I thought I should have said Panorama!
I remember some of the teachers at Sutton very fondly. I think some of the teachers were beautifully eccentric, but I learnt so much from them and that is where you get that first love of a particular subject. My English teacher at the time stands out in my mind particularly as being both interesting and inspiring. From him I got a love of English language and literature which would carry me through my whole career, so that was incredibly important for me. More generally, the ability to be yourself at Sutton and not feeling judged for whatever you were interested in was also important.
At the time I joined Sutton, we were living in a council maisonette. My mother was obsessed with education, now we would call her a ‘tiger mum’, but she was just really keen that I got the best education that I possibly could as both my parents had been forced to leave school at 14. They didn’t go to university, they didn’t even do their A Levels, so that was something they really wanted for me, and we were really well prepared for our 11+ entrance exams. Mum spent a lot of my childhood in hospital, she had reoccurring pneumonia, so in winter she would go into hospital and we would be fostered out to friends and family. I think because of that she was also looking for that security that a good education can give you, so that if she wasn’t around we could definitely look after ourselves, because we’d have a good education and therefore hopefully a good career. Receiving financial assistance gave me choices and opportunities that my parents never had, so financial assistance can be life-changing for families.
My time at Sutton taught me that I wasn’t as clever as I thought I was, which was something I think was important for me to discover. My mum was constantly telling me I was the cleverest child ever and of course, when you get to a school where everyone is clever you gain more perspective. I learned to not worry about what I looked like, that it was more important who I was and how I was, and that was really freeing. It was important then and I think it’s even more important now. My schooldays gave me a love, quite a deep love, of particular subjects that have shaped my whole career. Sutton also introduced me to lifelong friends, and some key relationships in my life were formed there. It gave me stability and security and a real confidence that I’m not sure I would have had otherwise – a confidence in myself that I then took to other places. Life was never as easy again as it was there.
I think seeing all the new advertising around the GDST has been interesting. I’ve liked seeing that and I’ve found the fresh approach interesting, it has reminded me that I enjoyed my school days. We’ve just been through the 11+ process with my own daughter and she was offered a place at Sutton, which we couldn’t take it up in the end. On the open day we found beautiful new buildings and facilities, but actually the girls that showed us round were the same, they had that kind of same feeling about them. And I knew, with confidence, that if I sent my daughter there she would thrive.
I think bursaries are important because they give people opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Diversity in all forms is important but it can also be about class, and diversity in education benefits all of the children not just the ones who are given a bursary. Obviously my school helped me, but I think having people like me there helped the other girls as well – I think it is very important to have varied friendship groups and share different experiences in life and get wide-ranging viewpoints. To a girl in receipt of a bursary I’d say don’t fall into the trap of just feeling grateful – you have earned your place at a GDST school through hard work and perseverance. Always look forward, but remember your roots”.
Managing Editor, SAGE publishing
Alumna, Sutton High School
Class of 1991