In 2008, I was 15 and looking around Sixth Form Colleges to complete my A levels. Like any 15-year-old, I had little clue to exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up, but the last few years had seen my interest and capability in Mathematics, Music, Engineering and Product Design flourish- so this seemed like a good place to start.
I had already undertaken most of the first year of A level Maths at this point, so was hoping to finish this, in addition to studying Further Maths, Music, Product Design and Physics.
The local Girl’s Grammar school was the obvious choice for me. I hadn’t achieved a good enough score on the 11+ test [entrance exam] to earn a place when I was 11, but my academic record now spoke for itself. The Girl’s Grammar school had an agreement with the Boy’s Grammar school for A level subjects- Girls would be allowed to take some of the classes offered at the Boy’s school (and I assume vice-versa) in order to increase the number of options available to them. The two schools were a short bus ride from one another, and both easily accessible from my home.
My mother and I attended an open day where we found one of the senior members of staff for the sixth form. We learned that Further Maths , Physics and Product Design were classes offered at the Boy’s school, but I could study Maths and Music at the Girl’s school. This sounded great to me! I was very independent, motivated and didn’t much like the idea of only having female school friends.
Unfortunately, however, they wouldn’t allow it. I incorrectly assumed it was a timetabling issue that meant I would be unable to study all my chosen subjects. The issue was that the girls school wanted to limit the number of “Boy’s” subjects we could undertake. My mother recalls it being said something like this: “We don’t like the girls to study too many boys subjects, and we don’t like to let them out in the day, alone, too much”.
Furthermore, I was informed that I would be made to repeat the first year of my Maths A level. It was seen to be more of an inconvenience to them that I had already taken 75% of the exams for this at Grade A.
My mother responded appropriately
“Well, If that’s the case, I don’t think you’ll be attending, will you Hattie?”
“Definitely not!” I replied, and we quickly exited the school with enough energy to ensure they knew how outrageous it all was. Their restrictive education policies were insulting and were not going to provide me with the skills and lessons I needed for my future. Turns out, this was my first conscious lesson in how to be a woman in a man’s world, but I didn’t know it at the time.
I got hold of a prospectus for the Boy’s School and discovered I would be able to study all my chosen subjects there, no need to travel to the Girl’s School at all. It was also quite common for the boys there to have been pushed to learn some of the Maths A level syllabus early, so I wouldn’t be out of place in their classroom.
Just one catch- I didn’t have a penis.
I acquired an application form for the Boys school and filled it out as ‘Harry’. I submitted it, but the sixth form coordinator at my current school pulled it out of the pile before it ever made it to the Boy’s School telling me not to be “so silly”.
I think this was the first time I was aware that I felt the world would have been a bit fairer, or easier for me, had I been born a boy. There were definitely examples before this, but I was too young to recognize it. My mother did though, and we’ve had quite a lot of fun this afternoon recounting the tales.
Eventually, I found one school able to accommodate my choice of A level subjects. A mixed catholic private school a 45-minute bus ride from my home. My family couldn’t afford the full fees so I was presented a challenge: My father told me I could go if I was awarded two scholarships. So, I sat the entrance exams and I succeeded. I was a scholar of Mathematics and Music and I studied A levels in Maths, Further Maths, Music, Product Design and Physics.
Ironically, I shared only my product design classes with other females. I might as well have gone to a boy’s school