On 2nd April 2014 I announced to the School community that after 500 years as a boys’ school that Nottingham High School was going co-educational. In this post I reflect on the 12 months since then.
We were delighted with the initial reaction to our plans. Whilst there were a small number of people who were not happy with what we announced it quickly became clear that the vast majority who wrote in were pleased to support our plans and my feeling is that this high level of support has remained very solid over the past 12 months.
The key test was always going to be how many were going to sign up for the first Sixth Form cohort. In our initial plans we had a conservative estimate of about 10-15 and an optimistic estimate of 25-30. The fact that in the end we have so far recruited 44 girls shows just how successful the plan has proved to be and we are thrilled that this has gone so well. We have also recruited two full classes into our reception year which is in line with our most optimistic plan albeit that there is still further work to be done to promote co-education at infant level.
Whilst I expected when we announced it that the staff and students would support this plan, it has become clear in the months that have followed just how much support there is for the plan. All of the staff are fully behind the plan and there is a real sense of excitement as we plan for next September. All staff support our vision for the future of the School and having a positive plan to unite the staff around is proving a powerful incentive to review so many different aspects of our provision. In recent months I have also met with all of the year group that the girls will first join. These meetings have been very positive and it is clear that our current students also fully support the plan. They have had some fantastic questions and I have used the opportunity to consult with them about some of the practicalities.
In the Autumn Term we held a series of taster days. These helped us to recruit our first cohort who were impressed by the welcome they received. After each day we spoke to the girls, to the boys, and to the staff involved in the day and all of these groups confirmed just how normal it felt to have girls in the classroom and this reassured all of these groups that the move will be successful.
Over the past 12 months we have been busy putting together all of the implementation plans. We have finalized the uniform and been developing some exciting plans for the building of astroturf pitches and a significant extension to our Junior School. We will be soon seeking planning permission for these projects and once this is secured will share the plans more widely. In our forthcoming INSET day we are being addressed by the Deputy Head of another major independent school who have made this move and he is going to concentrate on preparing the staff for the move both in terms of the teaching in the classroom and in terms of the pastoral care of all of our students.
There remains a great deal of work to be done. Importantly we now need to start recruiting the cohorts for September 2016 and with spaces available in all years of the School we are looking forward to making a big splash with our marketing led by our new Head of Marketing and Admissions Amy Chambers. We will be updating all of our school signage over the summer to reflect our new co-educational status and there is work to be done on further refurbishment to a number of parts of the School and in the creation of further toilets and changing facilities for the girls.
What have I learnt over the past year? Whilst it has been a great deal of hard work, I feel truly privileged to be leading the School through this exciting period of change. I am buoyed by just how many people have bought into this vision, even extending to the fact that we are seeing larger fields for jobs at the school now that we are co-educational. This sense of shared purpose, of working towards a common goal, is very empowering and gives me great optimism for the coming months. We will continue to work incredibly hard to ensure that the transition goes smoothly for all – boys, girls, parents and staff. With just 148 days to go until the start of the Autumn Term 2015 we are nearly there. The vision we have is for our school to be the strongest in the region in every way possible. We believe that education is about preparing students for the world beyond school and that true equality comes from working and playing together in a supportive and nurturing environment. We believe that co-education will strengthen our academic offering and provide superb opportunities to a wider group of children. We believe that our boys and girls will learn from each other and that in doing so they will become confident, well-rounded, grounded students ready to go off to university or the world of work with all the skills that they will need to thrive. We have recruited a cohort of incredibly bright, driven young women who will add a huge amount to our school community but who will also enjoy the fantastic range of opportunities and trips to help to develop their characters and to give them genuine and real leadership opportunities of the sort that we hope that they will go on to fill in the real world beyond school. They are attracted by our academic reputation, the integrity of our pastoral care, by our desire to excel in all that we do. We believe that all of our students, boys and girls alike, will thrive in this environment.