When I took up my role as President of the Girls’ Schools Association this year, I really wanted to ensure that I used the platform I was given in order to be able to achieve more than just a representation of the value of girls’ education. I say to the girls at school that they need to be mindful of the opportunities they are given to help influence others and make a difference, and it was as a direct result of this that – after discussion in school – I decided that we would adopt two charities both as our school charities for the next few years, and as our GSA charities. Both charities were to be focused on the education of girls and young women, as this was the uniting factor, connecting the work we do in our girls’ schools with the work of the charities themselves. One charity would have an international focus – and we chose the fantastic children’s charity, Plan, with whom I travelled to Bangladesh recently; I wanted the other charity to have a very local focus, pertinent to my school, and we chose The Prince’s Trust (South West).
Over a million – 1 in 5 – young people in the UK are not in education, employment or training, so the need for the Prince’s Trust programmes is large, and in choosing the Trust as our local charity, we were very specific about what we wanted the money we raised to go towards: it needed, obviously, to benefit local people, and we wanted the money to go specifically to women, in keeping with our aims and objectives as a school and an Association. We settled, therefore, on the Trust’s Enterprise programme, which provides small grants (and training) to help young people – more women than men, in fact – to set up in business in the south west.
Until last Monday – the first main conference dinner of the Girls’ Schools Association Conference in Bristol – I doubt that I would have shifted from this perspective, but following on from the testimony of a Young Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust who came to speak to us after dinner, I would happily let the Trust use any money they receive for whatever purposes they deem fit (as long as it benefited women, of course!). This is all down to Ashleigh, the Young Ambassador, who told us her story. Bullied at school for being tall, and with a difficult home life, she was introduced to the Prince’s Trust and followed their Team programme, which developed in her a resilience which she had simply not had the opportunity to develop up to that point.
She described – in a very matter-of-fact but very moving way – how she had liked school, but had been unable to learn partly because of the bullying she experienced and partly because she just hadn’t been shown – ever – how to separate out her emotions so that they did not paralyse her when things weren’t going right in her personal life. She had clearly gained an immeasurably huge amount from her experience with the Prince’s Trust – not just confidence, but robustness, ambition and the ability to work and organise her life. She has a job and has plans to study fashion design – what a success! If her impressive feather earrings were anything to go by, she will make an impact before long on that world.
We handed over a cheque for £5k on the evening, following on from a cheque earlier in the term for £4.5k, and we ran a prize draw on the evening which raised several hundred more pounds. More is planned. All of this will help young people like Ashleigh. As for Ashleigh herself, she said after the diner and her speech that she was so inspired by what she had seen and experienced in her time with us that she was off to design even more. Do watch this space!