It is a pleasure to write my first post for this blog introducing myself as the new Headteacher of Blackheath High. The weeks leading up to the start of term at Vanbrugh Park have been a hive of activity, with jubilant girls celebrating the public examination results, accepting university places and contractors and school staff getting the school ready for the students’ return. I have been fortunate to experience the warm and genuine community that Blackheath High is renowned for, from parents, staff and girls alike over the past weeks and I know the girls have been looking forward to returning tomorrow for the very same reasons.
Blackheath High is a school with a fascinating history which stretches back to its opening in Wemyss Road as the first purpose-built GDST school in 1880. Whilst much has changed about the school over the last 134 years, as one would expect, it is notable how many of the core values at the heart of the education offered here are timeless. Leafing through an early history of the school, I came across the following testimonial to one of our more colourful former headmistresses, Miss Gadesden:
“The school bestows on all who work there, an abiding loyalty, which we believe owes its quality to the sense of freedom, and to the wide outlook and dislike of extremes instilled by your example. Your girls go out into the world knowing they must cheerfully make the best of whatever life may bring them, that words must never take the place of deeds and that they must finish to the smallest detail any work which they may undertake.”
That same open-mindedness and commitment to others still characterises our school community today. In every corner of the school there are individuals selflessly working to make a difference to the communities they operate in. From our Saturday SHINE programme for local primary children, to the after-school Latin lessons offered to local state school students on our premises, there are a plethora of initiatives generated by staff and students alike. Whereas schools can sometimes be rarefied environments, Blackheath has always sought to ensure girls are grounded by a wider perspective and that they offer something back to the society in which they benefit.
Miss Gadesden’s insistence that girls ‘must finish to the smallest detail any work which they may undertake’ might not seem initially appealing. Yet in an age when attention spans are short and there is a mass of information available to us, a focus on academic rigour and resilience is as appropriate as it ever was. Skilful teachers, fired by genuine passion for, and knowledge of, their subjects engage their students and capture their interest. This is not, however, at the cost of coaching students in the skills and determination required to really master a subject and be confident in their academic judgement. Students, especially girls, best fulfil their potential when they are inspired by their teachers and mentors. That might be through a teacher’s strong pastoral knowledge of a student and a trusting working relationship cultivated over time, or more often it is from the love of a subject that a teacher conveys inside and beyond the classroom.
I also believe that a genuinely good education encourages aspiration in the students, in the broadest sense. It does not place them in boxes and squash their ambition, but rather broadens their horizons and gives them the tools and self-belief to pursue their aspirations, whatever they might be. It does not produce a certain type of girl, but instead cherishes diversity and individuality and teases out character. To put it simply, it is an education that provides floors to leap off of, as opposed to ceilings that limit students.
The world that our sons and daughters operate in, is geographically much larger and more diverse than Miss Gadesden’s world. They need to be adaptable, fluent communicators and confident in facing every kind of challenge. In that sense, the education we now offer girls is a much more rounded and internationally-minded one. A truly balanced education is not just constrained to the classroom and the study desk, but is one that reaches outwards to learn key life lessons on the sports field, in the concert room, at universities, in old peoples’ residential homes, visiting other countries and a whole range of other social environments.’It means that students have the chance to interact with all kinds of people and they have the chance to try themselves out in different arenas. It also pays heed to children’s mental and spiritual health, as well as their academic knowledge and skills.
I wish all the students the very best for the term ahead. Enjoy it, and follow Miss Gadesden’s advice to ‘go out in the world’ and ‘cheerfully make the best of whatever life may bring them.’
Mrs Carol Chandler-Thompson, Headteacher