Welcome to Redmaids’ High

March 29 2016
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Welcome to Redmaids’ High

News that Redland High School and The Red Maids’ School are to merge was a bombshell. But within days the shock and sadness gave way to excitement among parents, staff and – most of all – the girls about the prospects for the new school. Sue Thomas and Linda Tanner report:

WE are going to be a force to be reckoned with,” said Isabel Tobias, headmistress designate of the new Redmaids’ High School.

She was talking about the potential combined talents on the sports field, but the same could be said of other areas as Bristol’s two leading independent girls’ schools prepare to pool their resources.

Both have a long history: The Red Maids’ School is the oldest girls’ day school in the UK and Redland High School was founded in 1882. From September 2017, two will become one when they embark on a new chapter as Red Maids’ High School.

The school will be based at the Red Maids’ site in Westbury-on-Trym. Sale of Redland High’s 18th century buildings at Redland Court will help fund improvements at Westbury to create 21st century facilities.

The first phase, to be completed before the merger, includes an assembly hall, a performing arts centre and extra classrooms.Future plans include development of exceptional sports facilities, science and technology laboratories, and a new music and dance space.

“This is a very exciting thing for girls’ education in Bristol. The city is going to have one strong independent day school,” Mrs Tobias told the Voice. Leaders at both schools point out that neither is on its original site and each has made big changes over the decades to meet the needs of girls and young women in the city.

“Sometimes governors have to make brave decisions for the present and for the future,” said Mrs Tobias.

Announcing the decision on March 4, Dr Tim Chambers, chair of governors at Redland High School said: “Redland Court inspires great affection, but educational expectations have changed significantly. Our confined city centre site and our beautiful 18th century buildings constrains the development of facilities and the growth of pupil numbers. The trustees have decided that to consolidate with Red Maids’, a like-minded school with a similar vision, ethos and approach to girls’ education is the right way forward.”

Jane MacFarlane, chair of governors at Red Maids’ will chair the governing body of the new school. She said: “Together we welcome our new future. We will deliver an outstanding academic education, together with opportunity and success in performing arts, science, technology and art. Alumnae of Redmaids’ High School will be the leaders of the future and will be well equipped to succeed in an increasingly competitive world market place.”

Carol Lear, a former head at Redland High who previously taught classics at Red Maids’, will be honorary president of Redmaids’ High School. 

Mrs Tobias admitted that the announcement of the merger initially met with “absolute astonishment” and she acknowledged that many people had felt anxious and emotional “That is understandable. 

People of the city have been very attached to their schools – they love them. But I have been delighted at the many positive messages of support and encouragement. What has been wonderful is the way that parents, staff and girls at both schools have attended meetings, listened, asked questions and come up with ideas for how we can move forward carefully together.”

The girls had led the way in suggesting how to bring people closer, Mrs Tobias added. Teams from both schools worked together on a BBC School Report project about the merger and the head girl teams from the two schools have already met.

Perdita Davidson, deputy head at Redland High, echoed the close connections that exist between students at the two schools and their families.

“Bristol is a small city and many of the girls know each other outside school, from primary school or through guides or sporting activities,” she said.

Some families have had children at both schools. Among them is Mrs Tobias: one of her daughters was head girl at Redland High while the other went to Red Maids’.

Mrs Davidson, who will join the team of deputies at Redmaids’ High, said bringing together the huge individual strengths of the two schools would greatly benefit girls and staff.

Students will have the opportunity to study a wider range of subjects, particularly in the sixth form. Redland High girls will have the option of the International Baccalaureate, for which Red Maids’ is renowned, while A-level choices for Red Maids’ girls will expand to include history of art, computing, government and politics and photography.

For two year groups - Year 12 and Year 6 – the merger at the Red Maids’ site will start in September 2016. Everyone else will move over 12 months later, having got to know one another through a series of trips, activities and social events.

The junior schools will also merge at Westbury in September 2017, under the headship of Lisa Brown, while Redland High Infants with QEH will continue at its Redland base.

“We wanted to make sure the students starting their A-levels and preparing for their secondary education were fully integrated from the start, rather than having the upheaval of a move after a year,” Mrs Davidson said. Staff will also work together over the transition period, with Redland High staff all guaranteed a position at the new school. Stephanie Ferro, headmistress at Redland High since September, has chosen not to make the move.

Mrs Davidson stressed that all the elements that were important to parents would remain, and bestrengthened, in the new school. “We know parents think very carefully about their daughters’ education and want to offer them the very best. They expect class sizes that allow the individual education of the child to be at the centre.

“Redland High and Red Maids’ both have an ethos where pastoral care is very important. The new school will have exactly the same attention to detail and will go beyond what either of us can offer separately,” she said.

The schools will work together to resolve issues raised by parents, such as transport. The girls, meanwhile, are more concerned with redesigning their uniforms!