As a younger man, the words that frustrated me, more than any others, were “You can’t.” Those two words capture the limiting, narrow and fixed mindset of those who seek to maintain the status quo. Those who are unable to see how things might be better. This week, I have been reminded of how indebted we are to our predecessors who did not hear “You can’t” but acted on their belief that “You can”. This week, in the UK, we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of an act of Parliament that gave some women the right to vote. This year, at Dean Close, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dean Close becoming a co-educational school. Those two dates represent the start of a move towards equality so this week I have had good cause to thank my foresighted predecessor Headmaster Christopher Turner, for initiating the introduction of girls at Dean Close, and to Pam Rowles as our first female Decanian who joined the Sixth Form in 1968.
As a Headmaster in 2018, I could not imagine managing an educational establishment that does not require or thrive from the contribution of its female pupils. When interviewing Fifth Form pupils recently after their trial GCSE exams, I was heartened by the number of girls choosing to study sciences at A Level, bucking the national trend. In a hockey match last week, our astro-pitch was surrounded by a large crowd of enthusiastic supporters cheering on our U18 Girls’ in their play-off match for a place at the National Finals. The fact that they won is great, of course, but it was the reaction of the crowd to their highly tuned level of skill, strength and speed that made the match such a thrill to watch.
Tomorrow, the girls of Shelburne House (plus some guest boys) are staging a House production of “Out of the Shadows”. This revue draws on a wide range of sources from Shakespeare to Swale, Aguilera to Pankhurst, Franklin to Yousafzai and it is going to be superb. I know that, not because of the exceptional reputation of our Dean Close drama department, but because as a House play, it is giving an opportunity to every Shelburne girl to be part of it, even if they have never done any drama before, and they can’t wait. Nobody has said to them “You can’t”.
Today, in the UK, we are reminded that we all owe Emmeline Pankhurst and her Suffragettes a great debt. At Dean Close, every day we are reminded about how much better the School is because of the contribution of all of our pupils.