News & Events

Miss Neligan’s legacy is alive and well at Croydon High

Why are fanatics so terrified of girl’s education? Because there is no force more powerful to transform a society. The greatest threat to extremism isn’t drones firing missiles, it’s girls reading books.

Nicholas Kristof, American journalist and winner of two Pulitzer Prizes.

The GDST was founded in 1872 by four pioneering women, Mrs Maria Grey, her sister Miss Emily Shirreff, Lady Stanley of Alderley and Miss Mary Gurney. They believed that girls should be entitled to the same academic education as their brothers. At that time, only girls of means were educated, either at home or at the ladies’ academies, where the focus was more on accomplishments than academics.

After a public meeting at the Royal Albert Hall in June 1872, the founders launched The Girls’ Public Day School Company, selling shares to raise funds to open girls’ schools. In January 1873 the first school opened in Chelsea and many more (including Croydon in 1874) followed. The founders, including our first Headmistress, Dorinda Neligan, wanted a GDST education to be accessible to able girls, whatever their background, and offered scholarships from the outset. This principle is still fundamental to the GDST message today and as a charitable foundation we provide financial assistance to approximately 1,100 girls every year. Miss Neligan was a formidable character who, after retirement, was so incensed at the long delay in giving women the vote, that she became a militant suffragette. We always say that we believe that this sense of justice and equality of opportunity has been passed down through the generations of Croydon High girls.

I was particularly reminded of this as I noticed, over the course of this week, some intriguing posters appearing around the school. They caught my eye initially as they were clever ‘adaptations’ of the key images on our school website. I quickly realised that this was a way of drawing attention to the fact that the opportunities available to our students are not available to every girl, and in particular not available in 2021 to the young women of Afghanistan. The posters around school are part of a teaser campaign from our incredible Amnesty International group, who have long upheld and promoted the Croydon High values of justice and equality within our school community. Today, the group led a powerful assembly in the Senior School which talked about the critical situation in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover earlier this year, where high schools are open – but only for boys.

Our Amnesty Group, led by Ananya R, Louise R, Maddie H, Anaya P & Emily B all in Year 10, presented an excellent summary of the situation to their peers and it was clear to see how passionate they are about what is happening to young women like them, young women who also have hopes and dreams and ambitions, but who no longer have the opportunities to pursue them. As Maddie said;

“The situation in Afghanistan needs to be stopped. We need to help them make their voices heard. We are deeply concerned for the girls and young women of Afghanistan. Over the last two decades, huge progress was made, with millions of Afghan girls being able to attend school. Afghan girls have found what they love in schools and how education is so important to them, for socialising and to fuel their hopes and dreams for the future. But now, suddenly, this has been stopped. They’re not able to attend school, their path for their future is under extreme attack. All the progress that has been made is in danger of being demolished.”

The  team went on to explain what we can do, individually or as a school community, including supporting fundraising initiatives and signing an on-line petition demanding all girls have access to education in Afghanistan. This can be done via the group’s ingenious ‘peg’ campaign (pegs with QR codes linking to the petition will be appearing around school) and there  will also be a display in J corridor where pupils can show solidarity by adding their pegs to the display and lighting a candle as a symbol of hope. The Sixth Form Fashion Show this weekend will also be raising money to support women in Afghanistan.

As Croydon High approaches our 150th year in 2024, we must acknowledge that although the situation in this country with regards to gender and economic equality is incomparable to the experiences of others in some other parts of the world, we are far from living in an equal society. The impact of the global pandemic is well documented, of course and has particularly highlighted the educational inequality that exists in the UK. Whilst this is no longer linked to gender in the same way as it was in years gone by, enabling more bright girls from local, financially disadvantaged circumstances to benefit from and contribute to our outstanding Croydon High community is a goal that the school is actively pursuing.

Every year, we are inundated with applications from families seeking to secure places for their daughters and in Year 7, over half of our applications are from those who are not in a financial position to pay full fees. Increasingly, we are also seeing applications for bursary places at Sixth Form. Our bursaries are limited and so can only be awarded to the very highest performing candidates academically, whose financial circumstances meet means tested financial criteria. Unfortunately, the vast majority of those who apply, despite being very able academically, will not be awarded a bursary place. Those that do receive bursary awards join the scholars’ programme and contribute an enormous amount to raising standards for all – the elite modelling excellence for their peers. We are very proud of them and we see first hand, the life changing benefits that a bursary can provide to an individual as well as to our whole community.

The primary funding for bursaries comes from an agreed proportion of the fee income we receive, but also via philanthropic support in the form of charitable donations and legacies. The generosity of our alumnae, former staff and friends of the school has enabled us to increase bursary funding, but there is still an enormous shortfall, between what we have and what we would like to be able to award. Over the next year, we will be working with the GDST to support the campaign to Help Girls Learn without Limits and to raise funds to offer more bursary places in our schools, reaching out to local businesses and organisations who may wish to support us. (We would be delighted to hear of any such organisations who may be open to a discussion on how we could work together to achieve this – please do email me directly if you have any suggestions at f.cook@cry.gdst.net).

Our Amnesty Group have highlighted the plight of young women in Afghanistan in an inspiring, creative and thought provoking manner and I am confident that in true Croydon High style, our community will respond. I think Dorinda would be very proud of them and I hope that as a school, we will always continue to uphold her commitment to justice and equality for all, be they close to home or far away.

Fran Cook

Director of External Relations

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