St Peter's 13-18
“It was always St Peter’s,” Upper Sixth-Former and Rise resident Lily recalls. “I remember coming round when I was eleven. I came round five times before I was old enough to sit the Entrance Exam.”
Lily even chose her prep school on account of its being a well-known feeder to St Peter’s, though a little closer to her Driffield home than St Peter’s own junior school, St Olave’s.
For her, the choice paid off. She is now not only one of the stars of the unbeaten 1st Hockey team (“We don’t train very hard, but somehow we manage to win a lot of games,” Lily tells me. “Everyone has a similar mindset. Everyone wants to win.”) but after getting 10 A*grades at GCSE, is weighing the relative merits of Oxford and Cambridge.
Outspoken, articulate and favouring a smart trouser suit, Lily is a striking example of the modern female boarder. Despite coming from a strong family background of boarding, she is experiencing a way of life quite different from that of her parents and younger brother.
“My dad’s school [a boarding school in the north of England] was strict, with fagging. According to my brother, who’s there now, it hasn’t changed so much.”
She seems horrified at the idea that such traditions are considered synonymous with boarding, a rite of passage, even: “They’ve completely eliminated that here. If you do anything like that, any initiation ceremonies, you get expelled. It’s that clear.”
Lily is clearly ambitious, and as such, thrives in the relaxed atmosphere of The Rise. She is not a girl who needs others to apply pressure in order for her to give of her best, nor does she want to board because of any reluctance to experience the full range of teenage experiences. “I can go home whenever I want,” she tells me, “whereas at my brother’s school you get one exeat a year and that’s it. It’s more modern here. Mrs G [as Dorothy Gillies, the Rise House Mistress is affectionately known by the girls] understands how parents are these days. If you want to go on a date, then that’s allowed, so long as you get your work done.”
It seems improbable that change could be rapid in such an old school as St Peter’s, but even in the short time Lily has been at The Rise, she has witnessed evolution and adaptation.
“When I started third formers had to do some chores for the whole house, like emptying the dishwasher. Mrs G felt bad for us, so when I was in fourth form they changed it and now everyone across all the years takes turns.”
Lily is aware of how culture is consciously managed at St Peter’s. The welfare of pupils, not stuffy tradition, governs protocols: “If there’s conflict or minor stress around the way the rules make people feel, the teachers will notice. They notice themselves if something is unfair and they’ll sound people out to see how people feel about it. For example, they’ve stopped sixth former leaving chapel first because to the younger ones, that seemed intimidating.”
Lily’s experience of St Peter’s is that it is not a school where privilege is earned through longevity, or where good behaviour gets rewarded years later.
Similarly, the safe, compact city centre on the doorstep suits Lily much better than a rural campus. “You feel like you’re grown up. You feel like you’re the woman who can go and walk around independently. School is so busy, it’s nice to walk around, have a couple of hours to yourself and look at pretty things. Retail therapy.”
Lily is wary of judging any school by its grand buildings, noting St Peter’s has its fair share of those. “People see the outside and come to conclusions. When you’re here you understand the support. The teachers, if you ask for help, they are very willing to give it to you. It’s quite a personal school. Each person has a teacher they will connect with.”
As for the future, Lily continues to set her hurdles high: “Oxford and Cambridge are completely different to most universities. It really appealed to me. I’m not a big city person. The school prepares you well, feeding you small bits of information from third form, so it’s not a tidal wave when you’re in sixth form.
In the shorter term, “There is still one rule in The Rise my best friend and I are trying to abolish. It’s a special little privilege for sixth formers: a door that sixth formers can use and other pupils can’t. Even though I have that privilege myself now, I would rather everyone could use the same door. I drag third formers through that door just to make a point.”
It seems Lily can forgive St Peter’s for the odd idiosyncrasy though. I suspect in fact, despite her admirable support for democracy, that the occasional quirk is part of the school’s appeal. I wonder also, how conscious Lily is of the school’s nurturing of her evidently natural talent for championing progress.
Speaking of her experience over the last five years, as she nears the end of her time at the school she says, “I love it. It’s the perfect school for me.”