In the first of his occasional posts, our new Deputy Head, Mr Godfrey, reflects on his first half term at Downe House.
It was back in January when I told my colleagues at Caterham School that, after eight very happy years, I would be leaving to take up the post of Deputy Head at Downe House. Shortly afterwards, several of them found a moment to come and speak to me individually.
One of them said, “I used to work in an all-girls school. And I absolutely loved it. You’ll find that girls are a pleasure to teach.” Another said: “I do like co-ed, but I must admit there are many aspects of teaching in a girls-only school that I miss.”
The almost confessional tone of these comments is perhaps unsurprising since it can feel a little unfashionable to work in a single-sex school. After all, in the UK, around 80% of independent schools and the overwhelming majority of our maintained schools are co-educational.
However, almost everyone I know who has taught in an all-girls school has had a great experience. One friend, who is now the Headmaster of an all-girls school, said to me: “You’ll enjoy it so much – the girls are so collaborative, so enthusiastic, so up for a challenge. I much prefer it to co-education.”
I was educated at an all-boys, full boarding school (Radley College), but my 20 years as a teacher have been spent entirely at mixed schools – one comprehensive and three independents: Latymer Upper, Brighton College and, most recently, Caterham School in Surrey.
I am not ideological with respect to mixed or single-sex education. I believe that it is more a question of choosing the appropriate school for each individual child. The gender profile of a school can be a very important factor in determining the suitability of a school for a particular child, but the quality of teaching and learning, as well as the overall ethos and expectations of the school, should be more important determinants.
I have been fortunate to work in schools that have adapted and modernised to remain relevant and appealing to pupils, parents and teachers. No organisation that is complacent or which stagnates can flourish. Downe House’s global outlook, its focus on technology and its general lack of stuffiness are all examples of how it refuses to stand still. I have been impressed too, by the girls’ desire to engage with current events and charitable endeavours. The entire community’s robust, can-do response to the pandemic is also a testament to the spirit of the place.
I am happy to report that my former colleagues’ predictions about how much I would enjoy an all-girls environment have been proved correct. Over the past month, I have so enjoyed all the lessons I have taught and the conversations I have had with the girls at Downe House.
Back in June, I visited Downe to get to know the place and its people prior to joining, officially, in September. One item on my schedule was a 35-minute slot with a group of eight Seniors from the UVI House, Willis. The session ran to well over one hour without me noticing: the girls were so engaging and had so much to ask and discuss that I simply lost track of time.
I was so late for my next appointment – with our famously punctilious Headmistress – that I offered a profuse apology as I arrived. I need not have worried: “I am delighted that you have a taste of what is to come,” said Mrs McKendrick.
Mr Matt Godfrey
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