A (birth)day to remember
The topic for my blog this month chose itself. Tuesday 2 May was the School’s 139th birthday and, reflecting on the day, I was struck by how, though in many ways (as birthdays tend to be) it had been a special day, in essence it was a typical day in my life as head of this extraordinary school.
Here, then, are my reflections about ‘life in a day’ at Northampton High.
What surprised us?
In the first place, how long ago 1878 seemed in some ways – perhaps most telling was the fact that school fees were £1.40 per term! Other aspects, however, seemed surprisingly modern or, at any rate, familiar – the first recorded music and the first movie were made in that year, for example.
We marvelled at how much has changed in those 139 years – most notably perhaps in the role and status of girls and women within British society. How astonishing, for example, to learn that it would be another four years before a law was passed to allow married women to own property. The central role of the High School, a pioneering girls’ school, and also of the GDST, founded six years earlier still, is something that a birthday gives us a timely reminder to recognise and feel proud of.
We were struck, too, by how little has changed, in other ways (in 2017, as in 1878, Afghanistan is a region of conflict which preoccupies Britain).
One thing that is eternally unchanging is the girls’ love of cake! And, with that in mind, we invited our new Head Girl, Sally Croker, and the youngest senior pupil Olivia Russell plus birthday girl Lilli Trimble to cut a cake while all the girls knew that they could look forward to a cupcake at break.
Besides eating cake, at break time I met two U4 students to talk about their Open Homework. The theme of the year for this much-loved annual custom – dreams – had been chosen by the girls and it allowed free rein to creativity and imagination as well as analysis and speculation. Several of their impressive pieces are currently on display in the Science foyer and they make a fascinating exhibition.
Another reason for me to feel proud of our work.
At lunchtime, I welcomed Miss Yvonne Chapman into school. Miss Chapman was Deputy Head under Miss Lightburne, retiring in 1993. She was instrumental in preparing the new site for occupation and remembers battles to ensure sufficient space for lockers for all the girls. On such apparently small but actually significant details, the ease of school life depends.
Afternoon tea (and I should emphasise that my day is not always a catalogue of meals!) was spent with Mrs Makoni and Ms Shawatu, who were visiting us from Arundel School for Girls in Zimbabwe, on a visit coordinated by Ms Heimfeld. It was fascinating for us to compare notes on the challenges and excitements of being involved in girls’ education in Zimbabwe and Britain respectively.
In many ways our situations are very different, with the economic problems in Zimbabwe dwarfing our difficulties. However, there were also a surprising number of commonalities. Uncertainties over Brexit, for example, are reverberating as much in Harare as in Hardingstone, as Mrs Makoni considers the ramifications for her school of changes in relations within the Commonwealth in a post-Brexit world. Her mission – to prepare young women for the world-as-it-will-be – is the same as ours and requires her, like me, to keep an eye always on the unfolding future.
The evening brought the annual Sports Presentation Evening with a rich line-up of performances (Molly Roberts-Crawford giving a dazzling display on trampoline and Y4 dancers showing their moves with panache and joy), inspiring stories (not least from our guests Caitlin McClatchey and Fran Wilson, and from our own home-grown star Ellie Robinson) and awards. Here was a celebration of guts and determination as well as talent and skill.
By the time of the final whistle, then, I could look back and enumerate the vital ingredients of my ‘life in a day in school’ – the interplay between history, the Here and Now and visions of the future, the power of innovation blended with the guiding light of tradition, the daily routines and endeavours which propel us forward with the help of so many dedicated individuals, the big picture pixelating into the small but vital details, the work of looking beyond our walls and borders and of making connections, of honouring old friends and forging new friendships to build a powerful network to underpin the future success of our girls.
Tuesday 2 May 2017 was, for me, a day to remember – just like every other.
Dr Helen Stringer, Headmistress