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St Paul's Girls' School - history

(26 Posts)
GladToBeDone Sat 11-Jul-15 19:41:14

I have been looking at the history of different girls secondary schools in the London area. Having opened its doors in 1904, St Paul's Girls' School is younger than some of its private school counterparts, such as Lady Eleanor Holles (1711), James Allen's Girls' (1842), North London Collegiate (1850), Haberdashers' Aske's Girls (1875), South Hampstead High (1876), Wimbledon High (1880) and City of London School for Girls (1894).

All of these schools are highly respected but SPGS appears to have a stronger overall reputation. Does anyone know how this came about? By the way, I hope this thread does not lead to arguments about which school is the "best". I am simply curious about the history of the school and why it is so well regarded today.

ElphabaTheGreen Sat 11-Jul-15 19:44:11

Is it the school where Vaughn-Williams taught music? The St Paul's Suite, written for the girls' school of the same name, is very well known. Could that have something to do with it?

Eastpoint Sat 11-Jul-15 19:49:56

Holst wrote the Planets while teaching there. I wonder whether it is because the school was founded by the Mercers Company & was linked to a boys' school?

ElphabaTheGreen Sun 12-Jul-15 06:36:47

I guess I mean Holst who wrote St Paul's Suite. I didn't think Vaughn-Williams sounded right. Sorry blushgrin

GladToBeDone Sun 12-Jul-15 07:36:15

Thanks, Elphaba and Eastpoint. The links to Holst and the boys school would have certainly given SPGS prominence from its early days.

Any other history buffs (or SPGS grads) out there who could help shed further light?

enderwoman Sun 12-Jul-15 08:02:52

Just a guess but could the answer lie in a successful alumnae early on in its history or the fact that it was the sister school of a highly successful boys school so was selected by the powerful as the best place to educate their daughters?

granolamuncher Sun 12-Jul-15 18:51:28

SPGS's reputation as a top school has much to do with the High Mistress who guided it through the 70s and 80s, the remarkable Heather Brigstocke:

GladToBeDone Sun 12-Jul-15 20:05:16

Such a remarkable woman. Thank you, granolamuncher.

Here's another article that paints a slightly less flattering but equally fascinating picture of Lady Brigstocke:

basildonbond Sun 12-Jul-15 20:21:39

It was 'the' place to go for West London's chattering classes long before then though ... I went to the other Hammersmith girls school in the mid-70s and at that point SPGS was definitely top dog

TalkinPeace Sun 12-Jul-15 21:07:20

It was top dog when I was applying for secondaries in the mid 70's by a long way.

Some of their later High Mistress recruitment did not go quite so smoothly though grin

NotCitrus Sun 12-Jul-15 21:19:26

I suspect location may have had something to do with it?

Indole Sun 12-Jul-15 21:37:22

Nothing to do with location. At the time I was there (80s) it was qualitatively different from other nearby girls' schools. It was offering something better and more interesting and less hidebound. Not completely sure if it is offering quite the same any more.

Vaughan-Williams taught at SPGS as well as Holst. Also Herbert Howells (not quite so well known but not bad for a music teacher).

ridinghighinapril Sun 12-Jul-15 23:03:27

Holst taught at JAGS, too

MN164 Mon 13-Jul-15 06:48:54

It would be interesting to know how the Mercers contribution towards the school helped it's ascendance. I suspect it allowed the school to leapfrog.

At the time where the other schools mentioned here as well endowed as Mercers?

GladToBeDone Mon 13-Jul-15 09:06:37

"At the time I was there (80s) it was qualitatively different from other nearby girls' schools. It was offering something better and more interesting and less hidebound..." - Indole

Interesting - it appears that (many) people today still believe there is a certain uniqueness about an SPGS education. I wonder why other schools don't differentiate (or have not succeeded in differentiating) themselves along similar lines?

TheWildRumpyPumpus Mon 13-Jul-15 09:21:22

JAGS had its 250th anniversary while I was there, scarred into my memory as we were forced to walk through Dulwich village dressed in 1741 outfits.

Holst also taught there, one of those houses was named after him in my day.

Needmoresleep Mon 13-Jul-15 10:32:26

Did the girls school start out in Hammersmith, or did it move, like the boys school from the City. Either way its reputation will have benefitted from the links with the boys school. Certainly 70s and 80s it was the place where the establishment (Thatcher included) sent their daughters.

Demographics have changed and West London is a different more competitive, more international world now. Clearly lots thrived in those days, but not all. I know at least as dozen Paulina's, of whom some still
seem to suffer issues with self esteem. Some are still convinced they are intellectually superior, tedious in a 50 year old, whilst one good friend has made some spectactularly poor life decisions probably due to an on-going lack of confidence. Ditto though a friend who was at JAGs who was convinced she was not clever, yet clearly is - just not clever in the then JAGS context.

SPGS seems to be like Eton. People tell you they went there. In contrast its always a surprise when I find someone went to my old school as it is something you don't normally mention till you have known someone a while.

A couple of the Paulina's I know seem not to have entered their bright daughters for SPGS, opting for Putney or Latymer Upper instead. Both seem to have thrived. I assume it is a case of recognising the need for the right school for the child. A third girl is at SPGS. In this case it seems to be a perfect fit.

granolamuncher Mon 13-Jul-15 22:53:21

The current High Mistress claimed in yesterday's "Sunday Times" that an SPGS education is so amazing that plenty of her girls no longer see the "need" to attend university afterwards:

The school's reputation used to be an academic one. Paulinas flocked to the universities and piled up degrees because they had learned at school to love learning.

What now? Is the prospect of a gilded internship the school's attraction under Ms Farr's leadership? If so, I think that is very sad.

Indole Mon 13-Jul-15 23:29:56

It's probably true to some extent. I used to do the boy on my corridor's Latin translations for him (at university, Oxford) despite having given up Latin after O Level a couple of years previously. He was stumped, thouogh he had A Levels in Latin and Ancient Greek. The actual translations were pretty easy, tbh. Definitely no harder than we had been tackling at school at 14 or 15. Certainly in my day we were taught beyond and above and beside and underneath any curriculum that existed. I seem to remember trying to devise an experiment to tell the difference between water and milk by radiation levels, amongst other things. I wrote a novel (50,000+ words) when we had our yearly 'Dalton Week' where we could do anything we liked. We extracted a controlled substance/drug from some plant matter to see if we could do it. If anyone expressed intellectual curiosity about anything worthwhile, someone would pick up on it and give that person the opportunity to explore.

If they're still doing the same amount of stretching, it doesn't really surprise me that some Paulinas may feel they don't want to tread water at university. I think there has been some watering down since university numbers increased so dramatically in the nineties (this is some time after I was doing my friend's Latin for him).

However, I do think it's sad not to want to study further. The one thing I am grateful for above all else from my immensely privileged education is that I went to a school that valued learning for its own sake and not for passing exams.

horsemadmom Tue 14-Jul-15 00:09:54

I wonder what she actually said. This sounds like something taken out of context to make a catchy headline.
Uni (the best ones, that is) are about much more than facts learned. The girls of SPGS, NLCS et al should (and will) meet peers as bright or brighter who will challenge them and bring different points of view beyond the tutor's study. It would be a shame if some forego this opportunity for a quicker paycheck.

granolamuncher Tue 14-Jul-15 00:43:03

I doubt she was taken out of context, horsemadmom.

Here's an article she actually wrote herself for "Prospect" magazine (edited by a Paulina, funnily enough). It's surprisingly jejune and in much the same vein as her comments reported in the Sunday Times: an education is all about the job you can secure at the end of it.

GladToBeDone Tue 14-Jul-15 06:43:59

Granolamuncher - I read the Sunday Times article, and Farr certainly did not say (or intimate) that "an SPGS education is so amazing that plenty of her girls no longer see the 'need' to attend university afterwards."

Rather, she said that higher education institutions are not "keeping up with the requirements of the modern workplace", particularly at innovative, game-changing companies such as Google.

I think it is liberating that she is seeking to change mindsets and open up options for secondary school graduates, in that Oxbridge (and equivalents) need not be the sole aim of talented students (from all schools).

Lastly, having heard Farr speak recently, I certainly don't think she has diluted the emphasis on learning for the its own sake.

MN164 Tue 14-Jul-15 07:59:50

Didn't the outgoing/gone Eton College head also have a "pop" at university standards recently? I wonder if there's a bit of "me too" going on between them?

I do see to see the heads of Eton and SPGS quoted in the press more often than other "name" schools. Are they PR hungry or am I imagining this?

Perhaps a PR person can answer with the stats on column inches over the last few years ....

MN164 Tue 14-Jul-15 08:06:05

I think the Prospect piece is interesting. It is good to see Farr is in tune with the employment market that governs so many people I know. This means that her alumni will be better prepared.

"Young people need to be their own manager, publicist, PR agent, financial adviser and career coach. They must prepare to be moved around, adapted, reassigned and, if need be, dispensed with—the 21st century employee must also be self-reliant and able to go it alone."

Needmoresleep Tue 14-Jul-15 10:53:51

I am really no expert, but this probably highlights my unease with the whole West London education frenzy.

Life is more than employment. Its about being a good partner, a good parent, supporting your community, having the resiliance and wisdom to cope with what is thrown at you. In real life, it's useful to be clever and educated but as important to be able to work in a team and to be able to recognise and value the different skills of others. These West London privately educated children are so lucky. However we need our educated people to have sufficient wisdom to see their education as a priviledge which comes with a responsibility.

Some of these kids have never stopped. It has been important to get a 3+ place at Glendower, Faulkner House or Thomas'. Then tutored to be in the top set to get the school's backing to apply for one of the super-selectives. Then 11+ preparation. Then the need to meet the very high standards considered to be the norm. (A at GCSE is often considered not good enough.) Then Oxbridge, with its condensed terms and heavy workload. Or one of the Ivies which has meant in parallel keeping up high level music, drama, sport or leadership through your secondary years.

Some are very impressive, some are very bright. However some of the offspring of the "my child first" parents are turning into "me first" young adults. Employment, whether the City, medicine, law, architecture, the public sector or the arts seems to require increasing hurdles in terms of internships and volunteering. Not always, but sharper elbows and good connections often help.

I am sure SPGS will turn out some bright, well educated young people who work very hard, and who are capable of skipping University and stepping straight onto the career ladder. But what happens when they reach their late 20s. Will some stop and wonder what life is all about. Will others think that having always ticked all the boxes means that they are, in fact golden.

There is perhaps something to be said for the American system of liberal arts degrees, which presumably provide a chance to stop for a while, develop a wider range of skills and contribute to a community.

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