We are three months into a new era at Bromley High School GDST as September saw a new Headmistress start her reign. Angela Drew talks to Mark Kebble about tradition, success and the joys of bringing the very best out of her students
Bromley High School is a school with 130 years of tradition, where their girls are challenged in a safe, stimulating environment. The school is part of the Girls’ Day School Trust, whose girls outperform the independent school sector as a whole at GCSE and A-Level by a significant margin. Previous Headteacher Louise Simpson departed in the summer to teach in Brazil, leaving behind a school in very good shape. So how did it feel to be taking over such a successful institution? Angela Drew explains why it feels fantastic…
First things first Angela, do you have an educational ethos?
It’s about the individual child. In all through school, you have a rather wonderful four-year-old who arrives in Reception and then you have 14 years with that child to watch her grow and discover her potential as a unique individual. We have the wonderful opportunity to cultivate a child’s interests and give her new knowledge and experience: where she has talent and potential, we can nurture that and find just the right level of challenge and just the right moment. Education isn’t about grand schemes, education is about the child – and we have all the time in the world to get to know our girls really well.
What was the attraction to working here?
Bromley is a perfect school for me. I am inheriting a really healthy, happy school and my job is to make something excellent even better. I have only ever worked at great schools: my specialty is making something that’s already very good even better, if I possibly can. So everything that we do – every course, every event, every activity – we’ll reflect on what went well, but we’ll look at how we can make it better next time. This is a school that has a brilliant reputation – wonderful staff, wonderful girls, fantastic standing in the community – so the skill is to be discriminating about what we can do even better.
What for you are the benefits of single sex schools?
I’m the product of single sex schools; I sent my daughter to a single sex school. I have nothing negative to say against co-ed schools, but perhaps they deal with a narrower range of girls. Girls’ schools recognise that there are many types of girls and many ways of expressing your femininity. It’s very tough being a young woman today. When I was at school there were the sporty girls; the clever girls; the pretty girls – no one was expected to be all three! My 20-year-old daughter is part of a generation of girls who have been bombarded by media messages that they have to be impossibly gorgeous, stick thin, academically successful – and popular. It’s hardly surprising that some girls struggle with that – but girls’ schools understand those pressures; they set out to build confidence and resilience; they make sure that senior girls have the opportunity to take on leadership roles.
Can you define what teaching environment you like?
I am an Independent Schools Inspector, so I have the privilege of seeing a huge variety of outstanding teaching in some excellent schools and there’s no set formula. At Bromley our lessons need to be ambitious and academically rigorous because we have very bright girls. But pupils need to be inspired; it needs to be fun. However you create it, a great lesson needs to spark the imagination so that when the girls come out of classes, they are still debating ideas in the corridor. In the Junior School we have a fabulous creative curriculum. At the age of four, girls start with the topic ‘Here I Am’ and they bring in their own little box of their special things, and they talk about their own identity and what’s special to them. That exemplifies really great teaching, because it starts with a child’s individual experience and lets her lead the lesson. In the senior school teaching, we talk about ‘surfing the wave’: the best teachers build up interest, knowledge and enthusiasm in a topic until the pupils are excited about articulating their own opinions; it’s a real skill to let the pupils take the lead.
Bromley High’s education starts early – what do you offer in Reception Year?
I just talked about ‘Here I Am’ and just as exciting is the development of our Forest School. One of our great strengths is we have 24 acres of wooded grounds – even a little lake. It’s a beautiful green space for girls to grow up in. In the Early Years, the little girls have the chance to put on their wellies and get muddy… We encourage girls to be intellectually curious from the start: education is not just about stuffing as much in as you can, it’s about drawing a child out. So in the Reception Year there’s a palpable sense of warmth: girls are happy, settled, confident and secure – making friends and having fun. The Junior School is just lovely.
As they progress through Junior School girls experience our specially designed Creative Curriculum where teachers explore topics in real academic depth, but their creative approach incorporates music and drama so that we can spark the girls’ imagination. Take the Tudors: they dress up as Tudor ladies; perform Tudor dances; play Tudor music on their recorders… Each topic has a spectacular ‘Fantastic Finish’, so they even design the houses of Pudding Lane to scale in DT and at the end of the topic they set off into the grounds and watch them being set alight in a re-creation of the Great Fire of London! It’s all about bring creative and having fun with learning; creating those eureka moments that a child will remember forever.
Bromley High School GDST, Blackbrook Lane BR1 2TW; 020 8781 7000; bromleyhigh.gdst.net