International Women’s Day was, as always, an inspiring day. It was a great opportunity for me to reflect on The Oratory’s evolution to coeducation and thank some of the inspirational women helping make our plans a reality. Since we made our announcement in January we have been busy! Wootten House is physically taking shape and we have the first common room decorated and ready for reading, recreation, tea and cake! The plans for our dance studio are well underway, as are our developments for coeducational facilities for rowing, games, CCF and drama.
There is a misconception that a boys’ school will neglect female achievements in its curriculum. Walking round The Oratory it becomes apparent that this is simply not true. This coming Monday we have Professor Barbara Goff coming to deliver a talk entitled “Sappho and the Suffragettes”, an event that will be open to all. In English this week the boys are reading Margaret Attwood and Mary Shelley and in EAL they have been discussing the work of Malala Yousafzai. In History GCSE boys are discussing Eleanor Roosevelt who spoke of “the dignity of the individual, freedom and equality not only for Americans but for all people on earth”, and 6th formers the role of Rosa Parks in the Civil Rights movement. In Art boys look at the work of Annie Albers and still speak of last year’s thoroughly inspiring talk from Anita Corbin and her “First Women” project. The theme of this year’s International Women’s day was “balance is better”; a balanced environment with a balanced curriculum will produce a rich community where everyone can work collaboratively and grow for the better. This is why we embrace coeducation and will continue to develop our curriculum to ensure all voices are heard, all people represented.
One of the great joys of my new role is meeting prospective new girls and their families. Our recent open day saw more than 20 families with daughters come and see what an Oratory education is all about and it was a privilege to welcome them all. One visiting father referred to the 2020 entrants as “Pioneer Girls”, a term I have fully embraced! Our girls of 2020 will be Pioneers, helping to shape relationships within their boarding house and taking the first places in the schola, CCF, debating teams and in every other part of school life. Our Pioneers can do so with faith and confidence, because we have a wonderful staff ready to support them.
Two of these inspirational individuals are Dr Amanda Gemmill and Dr Clare Coombe.
Dr Gemmill is our Head of PSHE and teacher of Biology. Educated at Queens College Chester, Amanda read Medicine at Imperial College London and intercalated a BSC in Healthcare Management, she practises Medicine to this day. At University Amanda also excelled at lacrosse; she was captain of the University of London lacrosse team and represented England. Amanda spent thirteen years practising medicine, working at a large London teaching hospital, the Royal Berkshire Hospital before moving into General Practice. She became involved in teaching undergraduates and postgraduates and it was her enthusiasm for this that prompted a move into teaching and her career here at The Oratory. Amanda now works part-time as a GP and part-time at the Oratory as a teacher and Deputy Safeguarding Lead, bringing her medical expertise and compassion to the pastoral team. Amanda also helps run the school Medical Society, fostering a passion for the discipline in those considering a medical career. She also oversees medical UCAS applications and helps students secure work placements in the appropriate fields
I asked Amanda, what are you looking forward to with the introduction of coeducation?
I am so proud to be part of this exciting change at The Oratory. The opportunities that we offer in academic lessons, on the sports pitches and pastorally will only be enhanced for everyone as the Oratory family grows, welcoming boys and girls. I believe being taught in a coeducation environment will help the students develop mutual respect and understanding. They will work together learning how to collaborate and celebrate both their differences and similarities, skills which they will need for the world we live in today.
Dr Coombe is our Head of Classics and Assistant Head of Sixth Form. She read for a BA in Classical Studies and an MA in Classics and Ancient History at Exeter, she completed her doctorate at Reading researching poetry of Late Antiquity. Her book, “Claudian the Poet” is based on her doctoral thesis. Her academic contributions continue, she is currently over halfway through an MTh in Theology!
At The Oratory, Clare is part of the co-curricular steering group, planning the wider curriculum and activities options for boys and girls in the school. She is Chair of Charity Committee and has guided The Oratory students to raise thousands for charitable causes. Clare also runs the Windhover public speaking group and is currently helping to organise a model UN delegation. Clare is the school EPQ supervisor, supporting students with individual private study projects of their own design and interest. In addition to all of this, Clare is also the Event coordinator for the Music Department and also supports the students by singing with them in the Schola and the Consort; she looks forward to welcoming some more female voices soon!
I asked Clare, what are you looking forward to with the introduction of coeducation?
I believe we offer a unique and very valuable vision of education at The Oratory, in which we believe in educating the whole person: mens, cor, manusque (mind, heart, and hands). While I have really enjoyed teaching in an all-boys environment, there was always a part of me that was aware that I, as a woman, would not have been allowed to experience this very special education: I am therefore delighted that future young women will be able to come here. The value of the individual and the relationship in community between individuals seem to me to be fundamental to Newman’s vision for education, and, as a teacher, I believe I shall only deepen my delivery of that vision by including all young people, regardless of their gender. I see this as a very exciting time to enrich our community and bring an Oratory education to a new and diverse generation for many decades to come.
For those of you interested in our evolution please do get in touch and come and visit - there’s so much to see!
Dr Victoria Fogg