It is always exciting to see your name in lights and on Sunday 2 September that was what happened, metaphorically at least, as the Girls’ Day School Trust’s new national ad campaign shone a spotlight on its 25 schools, 20,000 students and 8,000 staff (with particular help from our own Chelsea Hikwa, one of the featured personalities).
This has set me thinking about the role the Trust plays at the High School – a role which is perhaps larger than we realise when we take into account all that goes on ‘behind the scenes’. At the opening of a new academic year, with all its energy and promise, I can think of no better way to start than by describing that broad, bold backdrop to school life.
In an age where trusts of all kinds (multi-academy trusts or MATs, say) are commonplace in education, it is easy to forget how special the GDST is as a Trust among trusts. First and foremost it is far older than most, with a much longer and more distinguished track record. Founded in 1872, at the very dawn of girls’ education in this country, it has played an integral part in the proud struggle to achieve education for girls on the same basis as for boys.
Second, is the ambition and inclusiveness of its mission. From its inception, the Trust has sought to provide ‘education in the true sense of the word’ for all its pupils, rather than narrow training, and to ensure ‘first-rate teaching for all’ regardless of background. This was a groundbreaking vision in Victorian society, with its rigid class system, and continues to be a relevant manifesto for our own day. Another way of putting it would be ‘girls learn without limits.’
What does all this mean in practice for us in Northampton?
For our girls, it means extended opportunities during their school career in every facet of life – sports rallies and scholarships, competitions and conferences, placements and performance platforms. The menu of events grows year by year. Last year, for example, our keenest Y6 mathematicians enjoyed a conference at Oxford University while budding cricketers benefited from elite coaching from a national player and coach.
The power of the network also extends far beyond the school gate, with the largest Alum organisation in the UK standing behind our leavers as they stride out into higher education and the world of work. University groups provide friendly support, from Freshers’ Week to graduation, while professional contacts offer a helping hand or a wise word of advice at crucial points on the professional journey.
For staff, the GDST offers access to a central training and professional development programme that is second to none – from subject-specific workshops to bespoke leadership training courses and everything in between. We can draw on the services of experts at HQ in legal affairs, finance, health and safety and IT as well as educational matters and plug into the support of a network of fellow professionals, united by a common purpose, eager to share their skills and experiences. The support I gain from the other Heads in the Trust – always just an email or ‘phone call away – is simply priceless and my colleagues each have their equivalent circles to call upon.
And for parents? Because the GDST is more than the sum of its parts, each of its schools can ‘punch above its weight’. As a charity, with Trustees but no shareholders, it can commit every penny of its income to the development of its schools. Providing very good value for money has always been a major part of its mission and excellent stewardship remains a top priority.
This is a reassurance that parents prize greatly. Some of the benefits are easy to see, such as the major refurbishment project for our swimming pool completed over the summer and the Inspire East conference for our 6.1s in Cambridge last Friday. Others are less tangible but equally important. The relative attractiveness of Trust schools as employers and training bases means they draw the highest calibre staff, which matters greatly at a time of a national recruitment crisis in education. Access to the highest echelons of educational expertise and debate not just nationally (for example, the Annual Summit) but internationally, such as the Global Forum for Girls’ Education in Washington DC I recently had the privilege of attending as part of a GDST delegation, ensures that we keep abreast of new thinking and help to shape the broader educational debate.
Shouting from the rooftops has never been our style – we are always too busy focusing on putting the girls first. However, this national campaign reminds us that we are stronger together, it raises the curtain on all that we achieve together in the unique GDST community.