Not many schools give girls the chance to train as Formula 1 race marshals, writes Sarah Lillicrap
It’s hard to believe that 140 years have passed since Edward Benson, then Bishop of Truro, prompted a surprised raising of society eyebrows with the shocking declaration that his daughters should receive the same education as his sons.
No longer would learning to manage the household and arrange flowers be enough for his girls. He wanted them to learn about science, to understand culture, to write poetry and to play a much bigger part in the world around them.
Having already overseen the building of Truro Cathedral, Edward Benson set about building a school where girls, and only girls, would be given the chance to study. In 1880 his vision became a reality and today the Cornish granite façade of Truro High School for Girls still stands in its lofty position on one of the city’s hills, looking down on the spires of the cathedral.
Almost a century and a half later, Truro High continues to think big and have bold ambitions for its girls and the school breaks new ground every year.
“Truro High School has the largest fleet of Greenpower race cars in the UK.”
One of the most unexpected features of the school is that it is home to the largest fleet of Greenpower race cars in the UK and students are given the chance to design, build and race their own solar-powered lithium battery cars. Girls are encouraged to lead from the front, using their own ideas with the support of motorsport experts.
Truro High currently has five cars in the senior school and three in the prep school. The team takes part in local events as well as competing at world-famous race tracks, including Goodwood and Silverstone.
All this make Truro the only school recognised as an official club by Motor Sports UK. Where else can you train to marshall at a Formula 1 race as part of an after-school club?
This month the school is opening a STEM laboratory for girls as young as 4. Hockey is taught by England Hockey’s Coach of the Year 2019. Headmistress Sarah Matthews has a saying: “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it”. She wants to ensure that Truro High girls get to see everything.
Around 340 girls aged 4-18 attend Truro High. The two boarding houses are home to 58 girls from 12 different countries ranging from Romania to Nigeria and from Germany to the Isles of Scilly.
This year Truro High achieved 85 per cent A*/A at A-level, ranking it among the top schools in England, yet you won’t find Truro in the league tables. The school concerns itself more with value added. The girl who works her socks off to move from a D to a B knows she is considered just as important as the girl who never drops below an A*.
“Too many people think girls’ schools are havens for catty comments and mean girl antics – but that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Withdrawing from the league tables, Sarah Matthews called for an end to the culture of comparison which she described as both unhelpful and unhealthy. Her school, she said, is about making sure every girl is given the best chance to become the best she can possibly be. The result – a broad curriculum, an attitude of “having a go” and, perhaps ironically, some great exam results.
Ms Matthews adds that too many people think girls’ schools are “havens for catty comments and mean girl antics”, which, she says, is totally untrue.
The reality, she says, is that schools like Truro High “provide an environment where the girls help and support one another, creating a connected sisterhood of friends who will stay with them for life.”
As well as opting out of the comparisons game, the school has made wellbeing a key focus.
Yoga classes and a well-being hub run alongside a full mental health awareness programme that includes a Big Sis/Little Sis buddy system, peer mentoring and weekly workshops on topics including healthy eating, anti-bullying and positive body image.
Mindfulness sessions are run during exam weeks while every week girls as young as 4 take part in “relaxercise” classes. At the upper end of the school, students can even gain a qualification in Mental Health First Aid.
Sarah Matthews says: “It is absolutely vital that we equip our girls with the skills and resilience to confidently face whatever challenges may come their way in the future. These life skills are as important to us as academic success.”
“You don’t have to choose between being the dancer or the engineer or the football player – you really can be all three.”
Ms Matthews is also a staunch defender of girls’ schools: “The most important gifts you can give your daughter are self-confidence and self-belief and girls’ schools deliver both these qualities in abundance. With only girls in the classroom and on the sports field, both intellectual and physical confidence can grow and girls can truly learn without limits.
“In a girls’ school, and especially a small girls’ school, it is not about equal opportunities, it’s about all opportunities. We actively encourage you to go along and try everything and to discover hidden talents. You don’t have to choose between being the dancer or the engineer or the football player – you really can be all three. Every girl can become a leader be it house captain, sports captain or STEM ambassador. Every girl can learn to shoulder responsibility and to lead and to inspire – qualities that will last her a lifetime.”
All this dedication to providing opportunities led Truro High to be named Small Independent School of the Year at the Independent School Awards this autumn.
And following a recent visit, the Good Schools Guide concluded: “This school could not do more for its girls if it tried. They are nurtured, coached and encouraged to achieve their personal best at every step.”
If only Edward Benson could see it now. His work, as they say, is done.
Truro High will hold its senior school entrance day on Saturday 23 January. Families interested in finding our more should call Mrs Jo Norriss on 01872 242902 or email firstname.lastname@example.org