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News > School News > 'It is humbling to have had a small part in the growing up of generations of fantastic young women'

'It is humbling to have had a small part in the growing up of generations of fantastic young women'

To mark International Women’s Day (8 March), Head of Dame Allan's Girls' School Elaine Fiddaman spoke to us about her career journey and her pride in supporting hundreds of young women.
7 Mar 2024
School News
Mrs Elaine Fiddaman at Dame Allan's Schools
Mrs Elaine Fiddaman at Dame Allan's Schools

Mrs Elaine Fiddaman is Head of Dame Allan’s Girls’ School (DAGS) and a teacher of history. She has been working for Dame Allan’s Schools for 29 years. To mark International Women’s Day (8 March), Elaine spoke to us about her career journey, her pride in supporting hundreds of young women, and the power of introverts. 

After leaving Oxford in 1987 I went into accountancy and trained with Price Waterhouse. I quickly realised it wasn’t the long-term choice for my career and, after having my two boys, went into teaching. My first job was at the Royal Grammar School where I taught for three years before moving to be a history teacher at Dame Allan’s. After a year in this role, I was made Head of History in Dame Allan’s Girls’ School and shortly afterwards moved into the newly created role of Head of Lower School. I then moved into the role of Deputy Vice Principal of Dame Allan’s Girls’ School, and when the management team was restructured, into the post of Head of the Girls’ School, where I remain today. 

It is immensely humbling to have had a small part in the growing up of generations of fantastic young women. I always love seeing pupils return to tell us of their exploits and just how far they have gone in their chosen paths. What strikes me most about these encounters is the consistent value set of these young women. Whatever they choose to do, it is done wholeheartedly and with a spirit of giving back. Value sets that I hope Dame Allan’s has influenced. 

My favourite thing about being Head of DAGS is probably the sheer unpredictability of the everyday, anchored by my history teaching which is still a great joy. I just don’t know what will turn up in my inbox or in my office, but juggling it all and trying to make sure that the needs of all the girls are met without losing sight of anyone is really important and very fulfilling. There’s never a dull moment!

One of the things that I think really supports our female pupils at Dame Allan’s is our Diamond Structure. It’s about living and learning without limitations - limitations imposed by society on what girls and women ‘should’ be like or should aspire to. I often tell parents who ask about the Diamond Structure about an insight from my teaching: in Year 7 when the girls are introduced to source work and see quotations from historians who identify themselves by an initial and a surname, the girls will often assume that these are women because they are girls and they are historians too. The environment in DAGS encourages the girls to believe that there are no limits on their ambition. There is a saying above my door - ‘She believed she could, so she did’.

There are so many challenges facing young women today, one of the most concerning I think is the old chestnut of social media and its wider influences. Girls struggle with how they should look, feel, or be because they are constantly bombarded with society's versions of the ideal female. The most common bit of advice I give to pupils within DAGS is be yourself. Avoid comparisons with others. You are unique. 

I also like to encourage them to remember that every day they are building their own legacy and that, in doing so, they have an influence on those around them. On their first day, I ask the girls to imagine that it is their last day at Dame Allan’s Schools and they are preparing to go to their Sixth Form ball before heading out into the world of university or work. They won’t see each other all the time, as they have been used to doing. So, I ask them what memories do they want to leave behind in the minds of their year group and their classmates? What will be the first thing a classmate thinks of when your name is mentioned in the years to come. Whatever you want that memory to be, start building it now. 

My own female role models are mostly drawn from history - Eleanor of Acquitaine, who was a remarkably brave and charismatic woman of the middle ages who was not afraid to speak up against the most powerful men of her time. Elizabeth Gaskell (a Victorian novelist and biographer) for using the skills she had at her disposal to bring to light the dreadful treatment of women in Victorian society, and more recently, Michelle Obama! 

For any woman who is looking to move into a leadership or mentoring role, I’d say lead by example - you are much more likely to keep a team working with you if you are prepared to do the hard stuff too. Some girls may think of themselves as being naturally quiet or shy, I would say to them, don’t underestimate introverts; a quiet leader can be immensely powerful. 


 

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