Half a century ago, discussions were taking place at Felsted that were about to change 400 years of history. The Headmaster of the day, Tony Eggleston, was about to announce that Felsted School, a school only for boys for more than 400 years, was about to admit girls to the school in the coming academic year.
No doubt, some staff, parents, pupils and Old Boys would have been deeply concerned at this change, but Mr Eggleston was convinced that it was the right move, and in September of that year, a group of 11 Lower 6th girls joined Felsted, in the Manor House on Station Road, under the watch of Mrs Elsie Thorne (whose husband George was in charge of music). Today's girls' day house takes its name from Manor House, and Thorne House is named in honour of Mrs Thorne.
In 1983, the number of girls in the sixth form was rising, and Garnetts was expanded to enable the school to increase numbers to 60. A further 10 years on, and in 1993, Stocks's changed to become a girls' house, under the leadership of Mrs Jenny Burrett, as Headmaster Edward Gould introduced full coeducation for the school. In 1995 Follyfield followed Stocks's in becoming a girls' house, with Mr and Mrs Grierson-Rickford overseeing the transition, and with Thorne joining the fold in 2010, the balance of five boys and five girls houses was complete.
There are now nearly 500 girls being educated at Felsted, and it is hard to imagine a school that is anything other than coeducational. There continue to be arguments about whether single sex or coeducation provides a better environment for education, and a number of schools have tried the diamond model as well (with coeducation for the younger and older children, but keeping them apart during those difficult years!). My own view has always been that the world is not segregated (not any more!), and that school is about learning, and one of the most important social lessons that all of our students learn is how to get on with one another, no matter the background. I think that this encourages tolerance, understanding and mutual respect, and prepares them much better for what life will bring in the future. Of course, there can be challenges along the way, and these do need careful managing, which is one of the reasons why we are working so hard on key character traits, such as respectfulness.
Many schools struggle to throw off the reputation of being a boys' school that happens to have girls in it. At Felsted, there is no doubt that this is a fully coeducational environment. Success in the classroom has an impact with this, but the confidence of the girls to compete and excel has often come through success in the co-curriculum, with Drama and Music being followed by success in Sport. With national finals in Hockey and Netball, and 3 recent national titles in Cricket, there is no doubt that at Felsted #thisgirlcan.
This year we are looking to celebrate the half century of coeducation at Felsted, with a number of events in the coming weeks and months.