In the years before Palmer opened a small group of girls had begun boarding with members of the SCR and Headmaster. One of those girls was Helen Cavendish (B 86-88) who remembers the experience of being one of the few girls in the Sixth Form.
“I had come from Theale Green, so was used to a co-educational environment. However, many of the Bradfield boys had only been in single-sex schools and never been to school with a girl. Schooling with girls genuinely was a novel experience and we had much amusement watching them moderate their behaviour and topics of conversation when girls were around.”
Girls boarding back in the 1980s was a very different prospect from the wonderful girls Houses of today. Most were day girls, but a few girls boarded, by living with Housemasters and their families. If day girls needed to sleep over, after a rehearsal, concert or school trip, they were able to use the overflow sanitorium.
“The ‘over-san’ was a room of beds in the main building, set aside for accommodating sick pupils during an outbreak of illness when the Medical Centre ran out of space. No male teachers or boys were allowed in and there was the threat of expulsion for any boys caught up there when girls were staying over.”
At the time the girls were fully integrated into Bradfield life, taking part in all of the Drama productions, joining in with the CCF and sport and helping to raise academic results.
“The boys were very welcoming and once the novelty factor of having a girl in the class had worn off, we all settled into a normal classroom rhythm. It was quickly observed that when you first add a girl to a class of boys, the academic standards rise quite dramatically. The boys worked harder because they didn’t want to be beaten by ‘a girl’ and as the only girl, there was no way that I was coming in the bottom half of the class for fear of being teased, so we all found ourselves in an upward cycle of academic results.”
Now a parent to a current Sixth Form pupil, Helen believes Bradfield still has the same underlying core values, focus on education for life, committed teachers and idyllic setting.
“Everything has been taken to a much higher level and the transition to co-ed throughout the school is an enormous positive. Having spent most of my career in Investment Banking, the lessons learnt during two years at Bradfield have been invaluable. The team spirit, standing up for your views when all around seem to have a different perspective, being authentic and comfortable in your own skin even when you look different from those around you, the importance of friendship and the ability to be resilient, robust and aware of your strengths and vulnerabilities. These are all good life skills and illustrate the value of a broad education for life.”
Once Palmer had opened its doors, the House operated for the first few terms with only one tutor, Dr John Horsfall. The Housemaster was on duty for the remaining six nights including, of course, every weekend.
“It was a very tiring experience resulting, at times, in a very grumpy Housemaster,” remembers Tim. “My wife, Judith, and our children, Elizabeth and William were most understanding. There were lots of ‘characters’ in that first year – too numerous to mention but together they generated a great House atmosphere and were certainly pioneers for the success of girls’ boarding for the years to come.”