17:40 Tuesday 14th May 2013
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
CHRIS MANN: The Cambridge girls’ school that was the inspiration for the iconic St Trinians is to .. wait for it .. admit boys. Yes. The Stephen Perse Foundation is a group of private schools in Cambridge. It includes Perse Girls. It’s been girls only for a mere 132 years. But all that will change from September 2014. Tricia Kelleher is Primcipal of the Foundation and joins me in the studio. Tricia, hello to you.
TRICIA KELLEHER: Hello Chris.
CHRIS MANN: Thanks for joining us. before we talk about you admitting boys, let’s talk about the stadium if you will, because you’ve got fabulous facilities at The Perse, haven’t you? But still, you would have welcomed this? Or not?
TRICIA KELLEHER:I believe we would actually, because Cambridge is growing, and it strikes me that as a growing city, we need to have the right kind of facilities. I don’t know the details of it, but it just seeems a shame that we haven’t got a first rate stadium that can be used for lots of different sports by the community.
CHRIS MANN: Well one of the things that was said in the debate we’ve just had which is there are bits of facilities all over the place, and together they add up to enough. But do you think there’s a need?
TRICIA KELLEHER: How can it be enough when Cambridge is growing? I presume that this is a plan for the future, not a plan for now. So maybe there’s enough for now, but what about five or ten years down the road?
CHRIS MANN: And you would have used it?
TRICIA KELLEHER: If they would have allowed us to, I’m sure we would actually. We’re always looking for facilities, because we’re in the middle of Cambridge, so we’re using these bits of facilities. Cambridge is our campus if you like.
CHRIS MANN: OK. Interesting to have that response. Thank you for that. Now to the slightly more controversial subject of letting boys into The Perse. It’s called The Perse Girls. You’ll have to change the name for a start, won’t you?
TRICIA KELLEHER: Well it’s actually called the Stephen Perse Foundation, so we changed the name several years ago. I’m afraid I’ve got some news to break to you Chris. We actually have boys already in our Pre-Prep, and boys in our Sixth Form, so it’s not quite as shocking as first appears.
CHRIS MANN: So you’ve got young ones and old ones, but now you’re going to have them right the way through.
TRICIA KELLEHER: All the way through. And I think just it is worth mentioning for historical reasons that John Maynard Keynes, the famous 20th century economist was a Perse girl, if you like, back in the early 20th century. We’ve had boys before.
CHRIS MANN: How did he get on at school? What was his school report like?
TRICIA KELLEHER: I should imagine he was pretty smart. (THEY LAUGH)
CHRIS MANN: OK. Well as you know, your Facebook page has lit up today with .. what do you call your old girls?
TRICIA KELLEHER: Old Perseans.
CHRIS MANN: Old Perseans. “What a shame” one says. “The ethos certainly isn’t the same if it’s co-ed.” “I still think it’s a shame, even with the parallel sections” whatever that means. “They’ve changed the name, changed the uniform, and they’ve changed the whole ethos of PG. Not the school I went to any more. Shame! In the corner please. In the corner Tricia.”
TRICIA KELLEHER: (LAUGHS) The naughty corner.
CHRIS MANN: What have you done?
TRICIA KELLEHER: What have I done that’s so bad? Actually, firstly I think the expression of concern and passion is a great credit to the school. Because we have alumni who care about the school. But I think it’s important to be aware that education moves on, that the needs of learning move on. And in fact our ethos is very much a 21st century ethos. We’re very globally minded. We’re connecting with what the other great schools in the world value. And we believe that shouldn’t be just for girls.
CHRIS MANN: Oh forget all that, It’s about putting grubby smelly boys in with fragrant girls, isn’t it? To mess up their eductaion.
TRICIA KELLEHER: Well considering we inspired St Trinian there may be a few less than fragrant girls there.
CHRIS MANN: (LAUGHING)
TRICIA KELLEHER: In all seriousness I think you can’t set aside the parallel teaching. That is actually integral to the plan, because we believe .. we absolutely believe .. it’s a red line actually .. that single sex teaching, boys and girls, 11 to 16, it’s just a given. That’s what will happen. We’ll put a little bit of that into our Junior School as well. But then of course outside the classroom they can mix in extra-curricular music and drama.
CHRIS MANN: There is one message in your support. It says “I left school with 3 As at A-Level but woefully lacking in social confidence. The minute a Perse girl steps into the world she has to function effectively around men. This approach sounds to me like a good blend of academics and realism” So basically saying that because she wasn’t mixing with boys at a younger age, she didn’t have the skills to cope with that in later life.
TRICIA KELLEHER: I think that depends on the girl to be honest with you. I think we have a very varied cohort, and some of it is about individual confidence. But I think what we’re saying is more from a world class education. And why should that only be open to girls? Why not boys?
CHRIS MANN: Is this about getting fees from males? Is that what it is, To expand the .. ?
TRICIA KELLEHER: No not at all. Not at all. It’s about providing opportunities, educational opportunities. And as we said earlier, Cambridge is expanding in that sense. And I think there’ll be more girls wanting this education, and more boys.
CHRIS MANN: Do you think some parents will take their girls out because of this?
TRICIA KELLEHER: I hope not, because I believe their daughters are getting an education that they wouldn’t receive elsewhere. And I believe there’s a great sense of faith and trust in The School, because it’s a school that’s been here for 132 years. And this is about frankly it’s about ensuring The School is here for another 132 years, as the best school.
CHRIS MANN: Did you ask the view of today’s kids before you did this?
TRICIA KELLEHER: No we didn’t. We’ve been planning this for two years, looking to the next ten to twenty years.
CHRIS MANN: Have you got reaction from them today? What are they saying?
TRICIA KELLEHER: Actually I think there’s a certain amount on social media. They’ve been quite quiet in school. But that’s because it’s not happening overnight. This is going to be phased in.
CHRIS MANN: But you’ll still have to deal with a whole pile of new issues that you haven’t dealt with before, won’t you?
TRICIA KELLEHER: We will have to consider very carefully the ethos of The School. I ultimately agree with that comment, that we musn’t lose what is great about The School. What we want to do is make sure the boys benefit from what the girls have had. So we need to work on that. We need to plan for that. We need to ensure that the boys have as good an experience as the girls.
CHRIS MANN: Will it still be St Trinians at heart?
TRICIA KELLEHER: I think it will always be St Trinians at heart. we like feisty girls.
CHRIS MANN: (LAUGHS) Tricia Kelleher, thank you so much for joining me. She is the Principal of the Stephen Perse Foundation, which is about to admit boys.