Maia DeCamillo-Phillips

“Bursaries have a great impact on individuals. It’s a real shame when someone with drive, passion and ambition doesn’t have access to the best education, purely for financial reasons.”


“I don’t remember my first day of school much, but I do have a very specific memory which was prior to that. It was after I had been accepted and had my bursary, but in the summer before I started at Sydenham, and my Mum and I went to go and see a play at the school – I think it was Bugsy Malone or something. They had just had these new theatre facilities built and I remember feeling so privileged and excited to be going to a school which not only placed so much importance on the arts, which were really important to me, but that also had these incredible facilities which all the students had access to. I took part in a lot of art and drama at school – I was more or less in every play. On a note that relates more to my bursary, I felt very much that it was important to take part in the school, and almost show my appreciation for being offered that place, by being an active participant and an involved member of that community. But also, it was great to feel that there was a dynamic environment where there were opportunities to do plays. Also within art as well, there were competitions that the school organised and I actually came third in London in a competition to design the new fourth plinth – they were running a schools’ initiative and I was sent off to City Hall to be presented with the third prize award. There was lots going on and that was fantastic.

There was a great sense of relief for us when we found out about the bursary. Going into my secondary transfer was a difficult period because my elder brother was really failed by the state system and when he was at the point of secondary transfer, he was left without any place, completely within our borough, no places available. It put my parents into the position where they had to home school him for several months until a place was found for him – and he was lucky enough that he actually was awarded a full scholarship to a private boy’s school through a charity and that really opened my parents’ eyes to this alternative of private education. With both of my parents working in the arts, in art and design, it wouldn’t be something that we would have normally considered because financially it wasn’t viable. Having this option was a lifeline for them, so when it was my turn to go through secondary transfer, that was something they actively pursued. So when both of us had these private places, we felt this incredible relief and excitement.

More than anything, my time at Sydenham really made me think about taking opportunities and making the most of them because you never know what opportunity you will be given, but also what can come out of them. I really thought a lot about that and also that you get out of a scenario what you put into it, so if you work really hard and pursue it, then you will hopefully be rewarded in one way or another.

Although each school is slightly different and unique in its own way, I think there is this through line within the GDST that it’s all about championing girls’ education, and there is that emphasis on providing excellent education, but also providing a supportive nurturing environment where that can take place. And, because I applied to both Sydenham and Blackheath, I was keen on the GDST schools and I remember at my interviews, I was, even at the age of 11, really into this idea about going to a girls’ school that placed such a store on educating girls in a way which would bring out their creativity and individuality. And when I was asked, ’Why do you want to come to Sydenham?’ my answer was ‘well, I’m an independent girl who wants to go to an independent school.’ And they all thought it was terribly funny! I got the bursary at Sydenham…

I think that bursaries really can have a great impact on an individual, it’s a real shame when someone with drive and passion and ambition doesn’t have access to the best levels of education, purely for financial reasons. I think that having the opportunity to attend a school that offers a real spectrum of education can change someone’s life, it can change their future and the opportunities that they encounter moving on from the school, and bursaries really play a big role in that.

I also think that, thinking about it in a different way, bursaries enable a school to have an expanded community. Because I think that having a diverse range of voices within a classroom, within a school community, really enables that community to have more empathy and more of a broader worldview, and without a bursary or financial assistance, that community shrinks slightly and those voices aren’t represented.

I’m still in touch with some of my friends from Sydenham and we were really lucky, because within my group of friends we all came from quite different backgrounds, especially compared to some of the people we encountered at the school. There was a range of reasons why we all ended up there but it was lovely, that even in a private school, we could have those different perspectives and different backgrounds, but yet all end up in the same place and all benefit from having that collective experience”.

Maia DeCamillo-Phillips
Actor, filmmaker and artist
Alumna, Sydenham High School
Class of 2015

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