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Headmistress' Blog: Young people can be a real force for good 

Isabel Tobias, Headmistress of Redmaids High

Greta Thunberg is speaking and the world is listening. Addressing one of the most complex and potentially catastrophic issues of our time, her message about climate change is hitting home. She has become a figurehead for an environmental revolution. And she is just 16 years old.

Malala Yousafzai is another extraordinary young person who fought for her right to an education, but was shot by the Taliban at the age of 15. As one of the world’s most powerful voices on female education she has since been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

These young people are driven by a conviction that they can make a difference – and they do! They clearly show the ‘power of one’ and the selfless determination and perseverance it takes to see something through.

I find the altruistic endeavours of the next generation extremely heartening, and something which makes my profession so rewarding. 

At the age of 12, one of our students, Hannah Killick has recently cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats, while raising almost £4,500 for two charities that are close to her heart. 

Just this weekend, a number of staff and students ran the Bristol 10K to raise much-needed funds for the school they will teach at in rural Cambodia this summer, while working with United World Schools.

Last term, our two student Environmental Captains received an Eco-Schools Bronze Award in recognition of their efforts to create a more environmentally sustainable school. 

These girls aren’t thinking about themselves when they take on these challenges, and for that I truly applaud them.

We know that doing something for others, can transform our own lives. It’s not about recognition, it’s about service and the positive effect good actions can have on our own mental and physical well-being. As Ghandi so famously said, it’s also about “being the change we want to see in the world.”

At Redmaids’ High School we never under-estimate our students. We encourage them to speak up, to effect positive change and to lead purposeful lives, and they are never slow to respond.


Blog: The importance of learning foreign languages: Monday 18 March, 2019 

In today’s multi-cultural world, where industry extends across borders and worldwide trends impact us all, teaching foreign languages to young people has never been more vital. So to read in the news that, “Foreign language learning is at its lowest level in UK secondary schools since the turn of the millennium” concerns me.

As educators, we should instil an international perspective in our students, to prepare them for the working world they will enter. We must equip them with the skills they need to break down barriers, be they cultural, linguistic or technological, to give them the confidence and ability to play their part.  

Even within our own school community, we speak 24 different languages between us including Urdu, Mandarin, Bengali, Korean, Romanian, Greek and Burmese and have lived in 30 different countries. This cultural and linguistic diversity is reflected in our society at large and we actively celebrate it.

Speaking additional languages will prepare our students to access a global range of professional opportunities, and we delight in seeing our alumna take advantage of these. One of our talented linguists, who went on to study Arabic at university, is currently working in Cairo on behalf of the EU delegation. Another more recent leaver is travelling to South America, using her Spanish language skills for charity and interpretation work, as part of her gap year. This would not be possible without the languages skills leaned, developed and honed at school.  

So at Redmaids’ High School, languages will continue to form a key part of our curriculum, with the majority of students in Years 7 to 9 studying two modern foreign languages. The future success of this country relies on the next generation being able to understand and connect with people, and an ability to speak different languages sits at the very heart of this.


Blog: Attacking independent schools is not the answer: Thursday 6 December 2018 

I found Karin Smyth MP’s opinions expressed on Bristol Live on Tuesday this week really disappointing. She claims that private schools are damaging to individuals and wider society. Reading the original article on fabiens.org.uk, Smyth refers to her longstanding belief that independent schools ‘deprive young people’ and that their ‘very existence actively encourages the underfunding of our state schools’.

I fervently disagree with her comments. As you know, Redmaids’ High was founded by John Whitson in 1634, Lord Mayor and MP of Bristol. His vision was to provide educational opportunities for the underprivileged young women of Bristol. In recent years we combined with Redland High, whose founders shared a similar vision. Today, 384 years later, girls still benefit from his vision as the school is able to offer generous scholarships and bursaries to academically able girls from all backgrounds throughout the school.

We also offer a number of 100 percent means-tested scholarships to students from the maintained sector. We have a special partnership with Oasis Academy Brightstowe in which we grant up to two fully-funded Sixth Form places to girls every year, plus we have more places open to girls entering Sixth Form from any other maintained school.

And we run inclusive opportunities at the school. For example, students from local state schools are invited to our annual free Women in Careers Conference every May.

I would argue that Ms Smyth’s opinions of the independent sector are somewhat outdated and misguided. Her belief that parents send their children to private schools ‘for the list of contacts they’ll leave with’ is hugely short-sighted. Yes – networking is a key part of any school community, state or otherwise. But if she were to come in and meet with our students, I think she would agree that the school’s real legacy is that students leave us as well-rounded and adjusted young women, confident to be themselves and make a positive impact on the world.

She also claims that private schools are ‘exclusively for the rich,’ which again, is not true. The parents that send their children to Redmaids’ High come from all kinds of backgrounds and situations. Many make big sacrifices to ensure that their children receive the education that they believe is right for them.

In my opinion an attack of independent schools is not the way to address any shortcomings in the country’s maintained education system. In fact, it would be far more likely to actually make this situation worse. Independent Schools Council (ISC) data suggests that the nearly 2500 independent schools in the UK contributed £13.7 billion to the UK economy in 2017, generating £4.1 billion of annual tax revenues (equivalent to £129 per UK household) and supporting 257,000 jobs. Furthermore, independent schools save the taxpayer £3.5 billion every year by providing places for pupils who would otherwise be expected to take up a place in the state-funded sector.

I would be delighted to welcome Karin Smyth to visit our school as several of her colleagues such as Thangam Debbonaire and Darren Jones have already done. I believe she would gain a better understanding of what it is that we offer the community rather than assuming our impact is a negative one.


Blog: Much Ado About What?: Friday 9 November, 2018

I’m very excited about our next school production, Much Ado about Nothing, as I absolutely love this play. 

It’s lively and fun with lots of clever word play and humour about gender – but it also has a dark and worrying undercurrent about man’s mistreatment of women and male double standards – particularly when it comes to sexual relationships. Sadly, because of the #metoo campaign we know how relevant these issues still are today. 

I’ll be interested to see how our performers handle the Hero/Claudio debacle. It’s always disturbing to see Hero humiliated so horribly in front of her family, only to cheerfully connect again with the man who publically denounced her. That never quite works for me.

I’m also looking forward to the duping of Benedict and then Beatrice in the garden. Done well it can be hysterical and I hope I will laugh out loud at their antics. 

How will the girls present Beatrice, I wonder? She’s a spirited, independent character, and a real extrovert, but I hope they capture her vulnerability too. Fundamentally, she is sensitive and truthful, and the same can be said of Benedict. Like most people, they both long for company and companionship in a close meaningful relationship and I hope this production shows that side.  

The Drama Department tell me there is a strong social media dimension to this play. How interesting! It’s not something Shakespeare would have known about – except that ‘messaging’ has always taken place and often been the cause of misunderstanding. 

These weeks before the performance are always tense and exciting. There is a palpable buzz around school, with people rushing off to rehearsals and coming together to make the usual last-minute arrangements. 

Last year’s Wizard of Oz was quite magical and brought the whole school community in a fantastic, creative endeavour. Which is one reason why a whole-school play is so important. It’s a chance for staff and students to work together on a project that really matters. One that enables us to showcase the immense creative, technical and performance talent we have here.

There is no better experience. Book your tickets soon!


Blog:  The reason we do the job we do: Monday 3 September, 2018 

On Thursday 23 August, something quite wonderful happened. Yes, it was GCSE results day and Yes, our students’ results were outstanding, but the thing that made my day even more special was an email from a student.

This student joined the School a couple of years ago and I have checked with her that she doesn’t mind me sharing this more widely. As she said in her email:

“I am writing this little note to you because I would like to say a big thank you to you and your team for making my years as a student at Redmaids’ High pretty incredible. I know I struggled at the start to settle in, however, since then I have felt very comfortable and made some great friends who I will never forget. I loved the Redmaids’ vibe and will miss it very much. 

"You made sure we all stuck together as a school community and empowered independent women as much as you could. I have made lots of memories and it has definitely, without a doubt, been the best school I have been to and I believe will always be the best! I would like to think that I made the most out of my time at Redmaids’ High. All my teachers were so supportive and brilliant. I felt that I had made great bonds with them.

"I think there is a lot of negativity in the world and people can forget to appreciate and be happy more often. I believe the positivity needs to be spread! Thank you for giving me the chance as from the age of 11 I always wished to go to Redmaids’ and I was lucky enough to get that opportunity through you.”

I have been thinking about her positive words ever since. As I say, it made my day and encapsulates the reasons why I, and all my colleagues, come to school to do the job we do.


Blog: Supporting the next generation of women in STEM: Monday 12 March, 2018

In a recent Sunday Times Magazine, Lorraine Candy, editor-in-chief of the paper’s Style magazine, noted the vast expanse of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) jobs that the UK struggles to fill each year – 40,000 of them in fact - and that by 2030 there will be a further 1.3 million “high-spec, well paid jobs up for grabs in this fast growing sector”.

The jobs she had in mind were those such as ‘virtual habitat designer,’ ‘autonomous vehicles engineer’ and ‘Internet of Things Data Creative’ -  titles many of us aren’t yet familiar with, in fields that are ever-growing. She asked, “how do we prepare our children to choose their subjects for jobs that may not have been invented yet?”

How indeed?! It is a good and fair question, especially when it comes to women. The issue of gender bias in STEM careers has been a hot topic in the news for a long time now. Nationally, the percentage of female STEM graduates is 24 percent according to the WISE campaign, and ibtimes.co.uk suggests that women make up only 14.4 percent of the UK’s STEM workforce.

At Redmaids’ High, as a girls’ school we buck this trend with nearly half of our 2018 Year 13 cohort applying for STEM subjects at university, but in general, women are hugely under-represented, in what is the fastest growing sector in the world. 

With this in mind, I would go a step further than Candy’s original question, and ask, “How can parents encourage their daughters to engage with the dynamic - and sometimes confusing - plethora of STEM careers?”

The answer, as with most things in life, is multi-faceted.

Firstly, seek out opportunities to broaden their - and your – understanding of STEM. For example, Futurelearn.com, which partners with a number of international universities, offers a whole host of free, short online courses in everything from Data Mining to Thermodynamics in Energy Engineering.

Secondly, check out apps such as Futurefinder.yourlife.org.uk. These help to match your daughter’s interests and personality to a number of new and emerging STEM based careers.

Thirdly, be aware of other local educational opportunities. For example, at Redmaids’ High we are hosting a free #WomenInSTEM Careers Conference, open to all Year 10 girls across Bristol and beyond. With workshops on everything from broadcast electronics and avionics to cyber security and wearable technology, plus a keynote address from science broadcaster, genetics expert and STEM ambassador, Dr Emily Grossman, girls get the chance to think bravely and imaginatively about their futures.

And finally, don’t forget to speak to us. As educational professionals, we are here to help ensure your children get the best possible start in life, but we are also a resource to you as parents. If you want to know what our IB Diploma course in Environmental Systems and Societies entails, then just ask our IB Coordinator. Or to get a handle on how best to support your child in their medical application for higher education, chat to our Head of Sixth Form (Academic). Not only can she offer detailed interview prep, UCAS support and networking opportunities, but she got a first in Microbiology at university herself.

Whilst there is undoubtedly still a gender gap in STEM subjects in the world beyond Redmaids’ High, I believe that we are well ahead of the game. Between you as parents, and us as educators, we can and will gradually chip away at the imbalance, making it a natural step for the next generation of young women to choose and flourish in STEM.


Blog: The resilience of womankind: Thursday 18 January, 2018

Since the bells of Big Ben chimed in the new year, we have continued to see the ascent of strong female figures in public life taking a stand against inequality and being resilient in the face of adversity.

Carrie Gracie, the China editor for the BBC, took the bold step of resigning over the “secretive and illegal” pay culture at the corporation which allegedly sees men gain far bigger incomes. Iceland became the first country in the world to make companies prove they are not paying women less than men for the same work. Oprah Winfrey gave a rousing speech at the Golden Globes, noting the generations of women who have lived, “in a culture broken by brutally powerful men” (#Winfrey2020).

We also saw the launch of the Time’s Up campaign from women who work in the entertainment industry. The objective: a unified call for change for women everywhere.  “From movie sets to farm fields to boardrooms alike, we envision nationwide leadership that reflects the world in which we live.” 

Just this week, our local MP, Darren Jones, was featured in the Bristol Post, publically calling out local companies who have large gender pay gaps, telling them there is “no excuse” for unequal wages.

All of this is very encouraging, but for me, the changes must start at the beginning. We need to educate our children about sexism and discrimination; raise them to understand gender equality. Sadly, as a nation, I don’t believe we are there yet.

At the end of last year, research from the National Education Union working with UK Feminista, found that two thirds of female Sixth Form students at co-ed schools have witnessed or experienced sexist language. The same report stated students educated at all-boys’ schools are significantly more likely to express strongly negative attitudes towards learning about sexism than their peers. 

We cannot and should not sit back and accept this.

At Redmaids’ High, female students take all the positions of leadership and responsibility, and are able to speak out freely and with confidence, away from outdated chauvinistic views. In our girls’ school, students are taught to challenge sexist attitudes and negative stereotypes.

We teach the life-skills of understanding consent, healthy relationships, online safety and facing challenges – all essential for surviving and thriving in a society that hasn’t yet caught up with our progressive mind-set.

Here, girls become resilient, independent and expect to be heard. I’m proud to say that our students have refused to take a back seat and have broken through glass ceilings. Our alumnae include the first woman to be a member of the British Paediatric Association, the first female president of the Royal Aeronautical Society and the first woman in Bristol to become an architect. More recent leavers have become senior advisors in Downing Street, partners in international law firms, founders of charities, surgeons, lecturers, engineers: the list goes on.

I have never been more proud to head up a girls’ school and to continue to encourage our young women to become the leaders and influencers of tomorrow.
In the words of Oprah, “a new day is on the horizon”. And at Redmaids’ High, we are ready for it. 


Blog: What a Term: Friday 15 December, 2017 

The last two weeks have seen a buzz of excitement and creativity in the school. Lots of special events have taken place and in many areas preparations which have been underway for months and months have reached a thrilling climax.

Last week saw the stupendous production of the Wizard of Oz which was truly a whole school effort; we were also thrilled to see the U13 squad clinch a hard-fought win (38-35) against Surbiton High to move into the January quarter finals of the Independent Schools' Netball Cup; while our Oxbridge candidates travelled in different directions for their interviews. 

By Tuesday the classroom decorations were underway and Wednesday saw us all in our Christmas jumpers, enjoying a festive Christmas lunch. Yesterday’s House Dance competition was another sparkling whole school success with over a hundred girls – and staff – taking part.

This morning we held a very special end of term assembly; we enjoyed lots of merry musical numbers and much singing between which scores of girls received prizes and recognition for their efforts this term in a wide range of subjects and activities. We finished the term with our Carol Service, enjoying the traditional readings and carols and the singing and performance of Close Encounters and Senior Choir.

And in this fashion, we have reached the end of a very busy, a very successful and very significant term: our first term together as Redmaids' High School.

As I have attended our trio of special autumn term events (Autumn Concert, Wizard of Oz and House Dance Competition) plus today's Carol Service, I have thought constantly about how we started out. The 3rd March 2016 is a date I will never forget; the date our plans to create a great and stronger school for girls were announced to the general astonishment of everyone. 

Since that point we have travelled together down our own Yellow Brick Road, inspired on our journey by the goal of a united and well-resourced community dedicated to the education of exceptional young women. 

We have brought with us many cherished and significant treasures from the past: symbols and artefacts that remind us from where we came, and which symbolise the values we hold dear. 

But, just like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, we have reached the point where we realise that the goal is not a distant destination but something within us. It is the building of friendship, collaboration and capability in our girls and young women - and the staff who have their best interests at heart.

I have been so proud and moved this term to see how our community has embraced the new opportunities that being together bring. Recent events in Hollywood, in Westminster and across the world everyday show us that more than ever before young women need to develop the inner belief and resilience that bring success in the world. Our young women deserve schools dedicated entirely to their development. Redmaids' High School is such a school, filled with the spirit of times past, and an energy and ambition committed to today and tomorrow.

I congratulate all our students and staff on making this term such a happy and successful period and would like to thank our parents for their tremendous support.

We are all part of a special, strong and thriving community where we share a commitment to the lives of our young women.

I wish you all a very happy and restful time with your friends and families and look forward to continuing our story together next term. 


Blog: Like a Girl: Friday 24 November, 2017

At the start of the week I had the pleasure of attending the Girls’ Schools Association Annual Conference in Manchester. We had many interesting and insightful presentations over the course of the two days, and one that was particularly notable was from Natasha Devon, the former Mental Health Champion for the Department for Education. Her comments about using gender neutral terms when speaking to students have caught the attention of many news outlets including the Telegraph, the Guardian and Good Morning Britain.

Natasha feels that the terms ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ are loaded with implications that may put pressure on children and adolescents to adopt certain behaviours, and as such, we should use the terms students or pupils instead.

Whilst I think this point of view is valid, I wonder if modifying our language is only treating the symptom and not the cause. Shouldn’t we be trying to change people's mind-sets about what it is to be a 'girl' and what it is to be a 'boy' rather than shying away from using these factual terms?

At Redmaids’ High we address our student body as girls, young women, pupils and students as and when appropriate, whilst being respectful of those who may not identify with one of these and the implications that a gender specific term may hold for them. 

But ultimately, I would rather change the connotations of what it is to be a girl rather than stop using this word altogether.

Here, to behave like a girl, means to experiment in the science lab or get stuck in on the playing field. It means to have ambitions and aspirations and to be kind to your peers. It means to lead, to achieve, to laugh, to build, to speak, to analyse and to understand. To us, being a girl means being whatever you want to be – even if you don’t know what that is yet - without fear of judgement or stereotypes getting in the way.


Blog: Mind the Gap: Thursday 9 November, 2017

 “The gender pay gap is persisting, but so must we,” say The Fawcett Society, the UK’s leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights.

The evidence of this gap can be seen in the media on a weekly, if not daily basis. Last month we learned that senior women at the BBC are getting legal advice after learning that the top on-air earners are all male, with the highest paid, Chris Evans, earning a sizable £1.5million more than the top female, Claudia Winkleman.

Furthermore, research published last week found that in some UK cities the gender pay gap is more than 50% in favour of men! And despite the median gap for hourly earnings falling to 9.1% (according to the Office for National Statistics) the Trade Union Congress still believes we are decades away from equal pay for men and women.

As a school which raises girls to go out into the world with real confidence and ambition how can I stand back and accept this reality?  Our girls go on to achieve amazing things, breaking through glass-ceilings and pushing the boundaries, so why should they do so on a smaller salary?

Would you expect Georgia (class of 2012) who graduated from Oxford University and who currently works in the Foreign Office on the Brexit Negotiation Team to earn less than her male counterparts? Or for Lizzie (class of 2012) who uses Computational Neuroscience in her role as a Machine Learning Engineer at Dyson to start on a lower wage package – simply because she is a woman? I wonder what Beryl Corner (class of 1928), the first paediatrician in the south-west and one of the British founders of neonatology, would feel about us still being in this position?

As The Fawcett Society explain on their website, “The current gender pay gap means women effectively stop earning relative to men on a day in November.” This day is referred to as Equal Pay Day and this year, it falls today; Friday 10th November.

With this in mind, I urge you not to be dismayed and downtrodden, but to see this as our chance to push on, to make a difference, inch-by-inch if we must. Today, The Fawcett Society are urging us all to make a #PayGapPledge in support of our shared goal of equality.  So I proudly make my pledge to continue to give young women the best start in life, arming them with the self-belief, ambition, motivation and opportunity to succeed.


Blog: A Woman's Place: Thursday 19 October, 2017

What an outrage to learn last week that the film industry is still plagued by misogyny and sexual exploitation of women.

What a frustration to realise that over a hundred years since women like our own Agnes Beddoe and Emily Sturge, former school governors and members of the Bristol and West of England Society for Women’s Suffrage, campaigned for a female political voice and gender equality, women in the developed world are still facing oppression. They are not represented equally in leadership roles in industry, science, business, medicine, politics, or the media and they cannot assume equal pay with their male counterparts for the same work.

How is it that in 2017, the proportion of senior business roles held by women in the UK fell from 21 per cent to just 19 per cent? How is it that the Financial Times reported, just this week, that the median gender pay gap in the financial services industry is a massive 31 per cent? How is it that in societies that have promoted the equal education of girls for over a hundred years, and seen an increase of coeducational schools, some men continue to exercise a disproportionate and negative influence on outcomes for girls and young women, and still treat them as objects?

Too often we hear that young women are frightened to report the abuse and injustice they experience at the hands of powerful men, highlighted by the #metoo hashtag that has taken over social media this week. All of this leaves me wondering whether coeducation has done anything for our young women?

In The Times on Monday, Amanda Spielman, the Ofsted Chief Inspector said, “If women are to take their full place in a world which is, to some degree, loaded against them, then it is reasonable for parents to choose single-sex education.” This is a belief that I very much share. I know that at Redmaids’ High our young women believe that they can do anything, because there is no one to tell them otherwise; all the leadership opportunities are theirs, all the honours, all the challenges; and so they enter the world beyond school believing that they can do it all, ready to challenge and expose prejudice and exploitation when and if they are faced with it.

Date Posted: 09 May 2019
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