King’s Girls’ Division pupils threw a party for Macclesfield’s first lady of education to celebrate Beryl Footman’s 90th birthday.
Miss Footman, as she is still affectionately known to thousands of former pupils, transformed Macclesfield High School in the sixties and seventies from a seed bed for secretaries, nurses and housewives into a thoroughly modern institution in which women finally began to have the same aspirations and opportunities as men.Pictured from left to right with Miss Footman are Keerthi Menon, May Broadley, Sarah Turner, Flossie Blackwell, Charlotte Smith and Freya Shaughnessy.
After 12 years she moved to Macclesfield College and, as principal, over the next decade radically changed the College’s culture from being a last resort for ‘those who saw themselves as failures’ to becoming the first choice for practical courses for those focused on successful technical careers.
However, she told the current generation of King’s Girls’ Division, who took over the Fence Avenue school in 1993, when her former headmistress at Nottingham High School, where she had been Second Mistress, suggested she applied for headship at Macclesfield, she said: “Macclesfield, Macclesfield, where on earth is Macclesfield?”
She said: “55 years later I love the town and I still live in Hurdsfield where from my back door I can see the roof of this building. Macclesfield has changed dramatically. You used to be able to drive up and down Church Wall Gate, park anywhere in the town and there were three cinemas, but there are still so many small independent shops, with wonderful staff and if you can’t get what you want there, they’ll always tell you where to try next.”
Beryl is modest about her achievements. “I was just in a line of women working to improve education for girls. There were many before me, in the country’s great all girls schools and the Oxford and Cambridge colleges in particular, but I am proud of what I achieved both at Macclesfield High and at Macclesfield College.”
She added: “When I arrived at Macclesfield High School, the sixth form was tiny, but by the time I left it had over 200 students. I used to tell them “some of you will want to be doctors and teachers, but many of you must go into commerce and industry because the country needs to pay for all its services.”
She added: “I also knew it would be more difficult for women in the work place and I told them to hire cleaners, hire gardeners, hire nannies so they could concentrate on their work.”
She added: “I am not a feminist or a trailblazer, but I do think more and more women will continue to take up more and more senior leadership roles. We are now getting the same pay as men, well unless you work for the BBC, of course, and it’s about time too.”
Now 90 she says she is still regularly approached in the town by former pupils who thank her for the influence she had on their lives, adding: “They say nice things to me, I’m not sure what they say behind my back though, but I love to see them anyway.”
“In fact when I was in hospital the other day and laid out for inspection, the doctor was a former pupil and I reminded her, “You know I used to tell you to work hard because one day you would have to look after me in my old age.”
Current pupils chatted to Miss Footman for an hour over lunch, but said the time passed by in a flash. Head girl, Flossie Blackwell, said: “It was wonderful to learn about the school’s history and to think of all the girls who came before us. Even if Miss Footman says she is not, we all certainly think she was a pioneer for women, and we want to continue in the same vein, because there is still such a long way to go.”