#HerStory – Anita Higham OBE
Born near Wolverhampton, I was three as World War II began. I remember hearing bomber planes and the noise of heavy guns and seeing the red night skies, reflecting the burning cities of Coventry and Birmingham, going into our neighbour’s air-raid shelter, and carrying a gas-mask to my Convent school. My mother was 21 in 1928 and had the vote. In 1918, she had been selected for the newly established mixed grammar school in Wolverhampton. My father had left school in London when he was 14. They were both strongly committed to their children’s education.
With a degree in French from Nottingham University, a degree in French from a French university and a teacher’s Diploma from London University, I was appointed to my first teaching post in 1961 – only to discover that I was earning considerably less than a less well-qualified man, because I was a woman. Parity for teachers’ pay took a graduated 7 years to arrive; the NUT (National Union of Teachers) lost many men who left in disgust to form the NAS (National Association of Schoolmasters). In 1966 I was promoted; having carefully saved my full deposit for a mortgage with a building society, I planned to purchase my first home. I applied to the building society, to be informed that they did not give mortgages to single women. I discovered that this was true of almost all building societies. Eventually I found one which, in view of my ‘secure job’, was prepared to take the risk!
In my subsequent promotions in mixed secondary schools, for the Deputy Headship of a mixed school of 700, then for the Deputy Headship of a mixed school of 2200, and for both my subsequent Headships, I was always, between 1968 and 1984, the only shortlisted female.
I was the first Head of a mixed non-selective school in Wiltshire, where the Senior Master was astonished that I was not prepared to cane the students! I was subsequently the first woman Chair of the Wiltshire Association of Head Teachers. I was the first female Head of a mixed non-selective school in Oxfordshire, when appointed in June 1984.
How often have I corrected the many writers of letters beginning: “Dear Sir..”, with – “you must not assume that this ‘Head’ is a man; I am certainly a woman”; and how often have I interjected in meetings and public gatherings when the “Headmasters” were referred to, with: “and the Headmistresses…”!!
When the CBI constituted its Business-Education leadership programmes, I was the only female board member and was invited to address the CBI annual conference of 1997. In 1991 I was invited to be the Education Trustee of the National Museum of Science and Industry, albeit a woman.
As we move further into the 21st century, at last I find that in the various aspects of my post-professional community commitments, I am never the only woman!