I walk through King's College, Cambridge every day to get to my lectures. I can't help but feel that the famous image of King's Chapel is somewhat spoilt and not only because they rejected me. I like to think that my rejection had more to do with my throwing up outside Professor Burgwinkle's office rather than my ability to translate Emile Zola verbatim. I'm not sure his exquisite Arabian carpet ever recovered.
No, it has nothing to do with that, honest. Instead, my rancour boils down to an age old agreement that exists between Eton and King's College. Henry VIII built both buildings and so it was written that one Eton student would be offered a scholarship place to study at King's College every year, an agreement that still exists today . This historical agreement that was made between these two exclusively male institutions hundreds of years ago is still deemed to have a place in Cambridge University's admissions process, an institution that now admits all genders, even though some colleges only conceded to that requirement less than thirty years ago, but that argument requires a different blog post altogether.
I mention this only because I have encountered other historical agreements signed by men, for men which have somehow been untouched, or maybe unnoticed, by the powers that be. Such an alliance exists between Lawrence Sheriff Grammar School for Boys and Rugby School, two schools in Warwickshire. In this case, the "agreement" shall we say, decrees that Lawrence Sheriff will receive a significant sum of money from Rugby School every year . Now, unfortunately Rugby High School Grammar School for Girls, the only all-girls school in the area, does not benefit from such a financial bond. Now, Let me take you on a geographical grammar school journey around Warwickshire. The same thing happens 20 minutes down the A46, in Stratford upon Avon, where the boys attending Shakespeare's old grammar school King Edward VI School benefit from an ancient trust. However, the girls attending Stratford Girls' Grammar School get nothing. They went to court to try and get the exclusion of girls lifted.
Admittedly, there were some funds set-up to educate women, for instance James Allen, Master of Dulwich College set up a school in 1741 through the College of God's Gift Charity, now James Allen's Girls' School. Unsurprisingly, there aren't many more.
I have been enrolled in women-only institutions since the age of eleven. I went to Rugby High School for Girls and am now studying at Murray Edwards College, formerly New Hall, Cambridge. There is a strong connection between these two institutions. Both, at different levels of education, work towards developing women and preparing them for the big-wide-world. But most importantly, they instill in them the confidence and belief that they can do anything they want. Both of these institutions have certainly instilled that confidence in me, some would say too much. There is also a personal connection between Rugby High School and Murray Edwards. The year I started studying in Cambridge, Barbara Stocking DBE became President of the college. Barbara happened to go to Rugby High School too. Whenever I mention that we went to the same school, people usually ask, "which one?" I imagine they expect me to reply with "Cheltenham Ladies' College" or somewhere more suitable.
Here's my problem: when I walk through Cambridge I often bump into my peers from Rugby High School, the President of Murray Edwards College is an "old girl", oh and also Fiona Reynolds DBE is Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. I think simply by association, Rugby High School has a pretty good proven track record of churning out highly successful women, women who continue to work for gender equality, be that in the realms of education or beyond.
Now here's the catch, hear me out on this, it is more relevant than you think: Rugby High School is the only secondary school in Rugby that doesn't have a sports hall. Research shows that there is a link between playing sport and academic success, playing sport and workplace success, and the most important link of all, playing sport and improved mental health.
There is a huge nationwide push to increase sponsorship and coverage of women's sport, not to mention the #ThisGirlCan campaign. This April, for the first time in history the Women's Boat Race will take place on the same stretch of water as the men's. About time to. But only last week, Rugby High School's application for government funding for a sports hall was denied. How can we ensure that women are reaching their full sporting potential if we do not have the facilities to nurture that talent, or even introduce them to sports? Having a sports hall is a vitally important facility and without one, girls at Rugby High School are missing out on all sorts of sport. Rugby High School has a plethora of high achieving sporty women, several county sport players and an Olympic hopeful. But when it rains, up to ninety girls are forced to retreat to the gym, I use the word "gym" with some trepidation, to play bench ball.
If you don't know what bench ball is, then you probably went to a school with a sports hall.
Let me return to the age old agreement argument. This financial settlement that exists between Rugby School and Lawrence Sheriff is not enough to build a sports hall out right, but it certainly gives them some options. The same goes for King Edward's in Stratford. Boys in Rugby, Stratford and all over the country are still benefiting from these covenants. However, there are very few examples where women benefit from such special relationships.
There is no place for these agreements that were made years ago in a progressive society where equality ostensibly reigns. The problem is, due to their historical significance they are almost impossible to appeal against. We still live in an education system that is geared towards and favours men; be that reserving a place for an Etonian at King's College, or providing a boy's school with more funding. Now that we have equal educational rights, these age old agreements need to be revised, reformed and ultimately repealed.
The absence of a sports hall at Rugby High School does not only constitute a practical problem for students but it is symbolic of the education system, a system that was built by men, for men. Clearly, we need to better understand the more intricate legislation that maintains this mantra.
I went back to Rugby High School earlier this week and met Charlotte Marten, Head Teacher who showed me some of the campaign materials. There was a quote from a year 7 student that stuck with me "We need this sports hall, we want this sports hall and we'll get this sports hall".
I couldn't have put it better myself.