Your Worships, Dame Monica, Madam Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen – It is with much pleasure that I join Mrs Marshall in welcoming you to Speech Day. 

Our 134th birthday and yet another memorable year: one of the wettest, coldest – and might I now add - hottest ever.  A memorable one for women, however: over in France “after 213 years, the most disobeyed law in the French capital – except stopping for red lights – has been declared null and void.  Since 7 November 1800, it has been technically illegal for a woman to wear trousers in Paris without a police permit.  Just over a century ago, exceptions were introduced for women riding horses or bicycles.  Otherwise, the by-law remained in force.  Any woman wearing slacks, a trouser suit or jeans could, in theory, be “arrested and taken to police headquarters”.  The ministry of women’s rights has finally proclaimed that the edict – is unconstitutional.” 

Here in the UK, after 100 years, just last month, we had the anniversary of another memorable event in the history of women’s rights.  On 4 June, 1913 Emily Davison (1) travelled to Epsom Downs to watch the Derby carrying two suffrage flags – one rolled tight in her hand, the other wrapped around her body, hidden beneath her coat.  She waited at Tattenham Corner as the horses streamed past, squeezed through the railings and made an apparent grab for the reins of the King’s horse, Anmer, then fell and was trampled to death.  There’s always been speculation about her precise motives as in her pocket was a return train ticket – but there is absolutely no doubt about her being prepared to make dangerous sacrifices for women’s rights: she’d been repeatedly imprisoned for her suffrage work, had gone on hunger strike and numerous times endured the torture of force feeding.

It now seems unthinkable for women not to have the vote.  How far we have come – but how far so many of our sisters worldwide have not.

There was no more chilling reminder of this than what happened last October to 14 year old Malala Yousafzai (2) in Pakistan.  All Malala did was speak out about the right of girls to go to school – and for this she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman obviously wanting to kill her.  Luckily she did not die – she was brought to Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital for life saving surgery and now attends a similar GSA school similar to King’s High just up the road.  In two days time Malala will celebrate her 16th birthday by leading a youth takeover of the UN General Assembly, calling for education for women to be made a priority in her country’s legislature.

Here in the UK women may have good cause to feel happy about their lot (these are my favourite KHS happy pictures of the year  (1 (3) a very cold and snowy D of E Silver practice; 2 (4) enjoying hot springs in Iceland (can you spot the teacher – who is an Old Girl – in the middle?) 3 (5) volcano jumping also in Iceland) but, hey ho, even if we do feel cheerful we’re advised not to show it – oh no, not if we really want to get on in this world.  According to The Telegraph recently, “In the male-dominated world of business, the secret for women when applying for top jobs is to avoid looking too cheerful, researchers claim.  Even the most competent and hard-working female employees may struggle to break the “glass-ceiling” because they are stereotypically seen as friendly and sociable.  Employers assessing candidates for a managerial position value characteristics such as assertiveness and dominance, meaning they are subconsciously biased against female candidates.  The way for ambitious women to overcome the gender bias is to appear proud rather than cheerful”.

Well, the eminent ladies who came to visit us at King’s this year were all cheerful enough.

Last Speech Day I spoke of the pleasure and pride we’d taken in “She Wolves”, the T V series about early English queens, written and presented by one of our very own Old Girls, Dr Helen Castor.  In March  this year Dr Castor came to speak at our Old Girls’ annual luncheon (6)  Her subject?  Queenship, of course; a talk entitled “Monstrous Regiment: Women and Power from the 12th – 21st Centuries”.  Everything and everyone from Matilda to Elizabeth the 2nd – and with a few interesting asides on the reign of Margaret Thatcher.  But her speech began not with a queen but with a lady she remembered vividly from her days here at King’s High – the great Mrs Potts.  Mrs Potts, also an Old Girl of this school, could be said to have reigned, in her inimitable way, over the King’s High PE department from 1957 to 1984.  Helen recalled Mrs Potts:  always immaculately coiffured and attired, even in her track suit, deciding who should be granted a precious posture star;  decreeing who should attend her exclusive Flat Foot Club – and dispensing invaluable advice for public occasions like Speech Day; “shoulders back, plenty of deodorant and a good, firm bra!”.  Helen said this advice has stood her in great good stead and so we have made sure to pass it on to our girls for today. 

In November we were privileged to be visited by another distinguished female broadcaster, the historian and writer Sarah Dunant, who was the guest at the L6 Celebration (7).  We can’t claim Sarah as an Old Girl of our own but we can claim her niece, Katy.  Sarah gave a superb speech about the context of her historical novels, namely the female world of Renaissance Italy – and she, too, had some excellent advice to offer, neatly coined as her three “Fs”: number one, Friendship – the precious lifelong bonds you forge at school; number two, Failure –
the inevitable consequence of being alive; and number three, Feet – A whole speech could be crafted around the wealth of metaphors about feet and footware but Sarah focused on the crucial need to be comfortable in one’s own shoes, both metaphorically and literally, and most appropriately as she indicated her own: an ultra sensible but snazzy pair of black sneakers.  I thought of this when one of my Year 7 classes told me of their aspirations, which included numerous outstanding things including even “getting to wear high heels”.  Who knows, perhaps Dame Monica will continue this theme for us today? 
Surely no one could be better qualified to speak about this, the ballerina’s most precious asset – her own two feet.

Despite a decade of magnificent building projects, last September we still managed to open two more excellent facilities.  The first was an extensively renovated Food Technology room.  We celebrated with a King’s High bake off (8);  the reintroduction of Food Technology A level, by popular demand;  and a King’s High/Warwick School Sixth Form culinary competition (9).  This was judged by our Head of Sixth Form, Mr Wood, who, in bravely declaring the boys winners, had clearly had his head turned by their Nigella sponge.

In this, his second year with us, our chef Mr Lubrano continues to delight: if you ask girls what they like about this school “the food” is usually what they say first.  We held a new culinary event for parents, the KHAPS “Taste of King’s” dinner (10) so they could sample truly for themselves what all the fuss is about.  And Carlo passed the ultimate test by cooking dinner for our French exchange school staff (11) during their visit – they declared themselves rather surprised and very impressed.

The collaborative culinary theme was also in evidence in one of the most enjoyed assemblies all year during Healthy Eating Week, the theme of which was eating for a healthy heart.  In a wonderfully witty take off of a certain popular TV show, created by Sixth Former Emma Blacklay-Piech, a King’s High tomato, orange, lettuce, green tea leaf, blueberry and turkey competed for Ralph and Joel from Warwick School to take them “out of the fridge” (12).

Our second new facility was a brand new Science lab, the Jubilee Lab in Red Corridor – needed because of the introduction of 3 separate sciences in KS4 and the IGCSE, and because of even larger numbers of girls choosing at least one science in the Sixth Form.  Science and girls hit the national news headlines in October when the shocking fact was revealed that in over half our state schools no girl is studying A level physics.  I was delighted, therefore, to be invited to comment on this on local radio and so be able to give the strongest possible plug for single sex female education – girls in GSA schools, like King’s, are THREE times more likely to study physics at A level than girls nationally (note: maintained and independent sectors).

This year we have 36 girls going on to study science at university.  We have alumnae who have forged distinguished careers in science and medicine, amongst whom we proudly count an exceptional number of cardiologists, and engineers.  The other distinguished Old Girl who visited us this year was, Baroness Judith Jolly (13), Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Committee on Health and Social Care.  Judith read engineering at Leeds University in the 1970s, and recalled being the only girl on her course.  And we must also make mention of Old Girl Sally Le Page (14), an ex King’s High scholar who has just achieved a 1st class degree in Biological Sciences at Oxford and who, earlier this year, won the Oxford University Press and Guardian’s Very Short Film competition with her film, “Evolution”.  Sally won £9,000 towards tuition fees and is now proceeding to a DPhil at Oxford in evolutionary theory.  I suspect a glittering career awaits. 

I thought for a change this year, you might now enjoy hearing some of the year’s highlights from the girls themselves and I’m now pleased to introduce

Ruth & Briony  from    Year 7
Isabella & Lucy            from    Year 8
Georgina & Hannah    from    Year 9

To tell you about the year in Key Stage 3


Kate from Year 10
Ronay  from Year 11

To tell you about the year in Key Stage 4

Thank you very much girls, and to Fran Hill who composed the verse.

All that remains now is for me to conclude in the traditional way: by thanking our governors, and especially our King’s High Chairman, Mrs Marshall, for their dedication; by paying tribute to the staff who leave us this term (15) and most especially our retirees, Mrs Brown (16), Mrs Grant (17), Mrs Prance (18), Mrs Roberts (19) and Mrs Stringer (20) who have all given such long and dedicated service to our school; and by saying goodbye to the girls who leave us tomorrow (21) – We are so very proud of the young women each of them has become.  But finally this year we also have to say another and very special goodbye – To Mr Halse, the Headmaster of Warwick School.  I reflected recently in my introduction to “Connect”, our 2 schools’ joint newsletter, that we’d have been hard pressed to find much in the nature of connection to feature when we first arrived. Now we run out of room there’s so much to celebrate.  Ed, thank you, for your friendship and your generosity to King’s High.  We wish you a very happy retirement.

Many of the girls are very excited about the holiday trips to India, Turkey and Spain but wherever you’ll be this summer I hope the sun will continue to shine and that you will have a really lovely time.

And now our Deputy Head Girl, Kate, and our Senior Prefect, Amy, will say goodbye to King’s High.

Yes, we remember King’s High

Yes, we remember King’s High, when we were new Year 7s –
only two feet tall and in awe of Year 11s,    
with our regulation rucksacks of which Bear Grylls would be proud –
beetling past the Library, lost in the King’s High crowd.

We pushed into the lunch queue as often as we dared,
feeling SO rebellious (but not a little scared).
Hockey trials and netball trials, which Games staff would arrange,
kept us fit and meant we could wear short skirts for a change.

The bonding weekend saw us each arriving with a case
crammed full with clothes we didn’t need but no comb or toothpaste.
That disco with the Warwick boys … those tickets sold all right!
Then we tried to bond with them as well - by avoiding them all night….

Yes, we remember King’s High, when we became Year 8.
We learned to walk instead of running at a frantic rate.
Our skirts now touched our knees, not our shins, or, worse, the floor
so we could walk unhindered along Red Corridor.

Science had once been ‘Science’, but was now made up of three
mysterious wonders: Physics, Chem, Biology.
And then the trip to Paris – another wondrous thing
where we grappled with new vocab … ‘What’s French for Burger King?’

Yes, we remember King’s High, when we morphed into Year 9,
moved to the Language classrooms then got locked out all the time.
That chocolate cake …. the classroom floor … we didn’t think we’d mark it
but it’s still there if you look, fossilised within the carpet.

Some call Year 9 ‘the naughty year’ – I’m sure that’s just a rumour …
It’s just what we called ‘lively’ – a Year 9 ‘sense of humour’.
We played netball in Gibraltar, went to France and Germany,
and had Spanish girls to stay with us.  Did we enjoy that?  Si!

Yes, we remember King’s High – year 10 and year 11.
To look at us, you’d never know we once were sweet year 7.
We said goodbye to pleated skirts with shouts and joyful  squeals
and shopped along the high street for the highest of low heels.

We faced our first exams in Science – that learning curve was steep!
Can YOU recite the periodic tables while you sleep?
For D of E we walked, and walked, and walked, and walked some more
for 24 kilometres, then crumpled to the floor!

Year 10 seemed like a breeze, though, compared to what came next.
We never thought we’d ever say, ‘I don’t have time to text!’
We’d all end up in town, in Café Nero, by and by
to eat cake, cram Maths or Physics, or Languages – and cry…. 

Yes, we remember King’s High, when we became year 12s
and they gave us ‘study periods’ (we called them frees ourselves!)
We made our tea and toast in the common room and then
instead of writing essays we made tea and toast again.

School uniform: a memory.  No longer all in blues.
We launched ourselves on Leamington to shop for suits and shoes.
We hockeyed in Malaysia – in India we taught
and for gold in D of E, again, we walked - and walked - and walked.

Yes, we remember King’s High:  our last year, year 13.
The stress and strain of UCAS … give me chocolate and caffeine!
The personal statement nightmare – for us, and for the staff
to whom we’d fly with queries such as ‘What’s a paragraph?’

Those 18th birthday parties eating cake with Mrs Surber …
(‘Remember not to say ‘stuff’ in a way that will disturb her!’)
For Rag Week, the pyjamas.  For the 6th Form ball, the frocks
To impress the Warwick school boys in their suits and clean(ish) socks.

Yes, we remember weeping.  We could not quite believe
how we’d always said ‘School’s boring’ or ‘I wish that I could leave’
And, then, we played our last match, and ate our final muffin
And cried, ‘I’m taking A2 French.  Je peux remember nothing!’

We belted out ‘Jerusalem’ – wept on a poor friend’s shoulder
We would not cease from mental fight until exams were over
Not with a bow of burning gold, but with a pen, we’d try
To make sure they’d remember US at our old school – King’s High.

By Fran Hill