Fiona Millar - ex Camden Student
Sixth Form Assembly Speaker 10th September
On Monday 10th September, ex-Camden student Fiona Millar came to speak to the sixth form. In fact, we were informed that this year was exactly 50 years since she had studied at Camden herself. Growing up, Millar always disagreed with the selective education system, as it meant that children from disadvantaged backgrounds went to schools which were of lower quality. This is one of the reasons why Fiona Millar is passionate about educating young people, especially through comprehensive schools.
Millar told us that during her time at Camden, the education system was rather relaxed as there was not much competition between schools, which meant schools were not under the pressure to outperform each other which they are now. There was also a far less rigorous approach to uni applications which resulted in Millar’s mother, whilst she was on her gap year, sending off a UCAS application and Millar returned home to discover that she had been accepted at UCL. The important message that Millar wanted us to take away, was that if you don’t succeed the first time, then you should persevere and try again.
Millar then went on to work for the Daily Mirror in the early 1980’s, where she worked as a news reporter and political correspondent, along with her husband. Once she became pregnant with her first child, however, Millar had to put her career in journalism on hold. Millar made it very clear that having a family will always impact your life and career if you are a woman no matter what industry you work in. This she believes, is partly why there is still a pay gap of 18%, despite us being in the 21st century, in that taking maternity leave restricts women from receiving promotions or high status jobs. This is an important issue to raise and the way she spoke made it clear that she was a Camden girl through and through.
Millar was given a second chance at a career in politics, where she worked alongside Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street and was able to meet the likes of Princess Diana and Nelson Mandela. This allowed Millar to work with fascinating people and watch, what are considered to be, some of Labour’s greatest achievements unfold. Millar moved on to become a school governor. A big issue that Millar addressed, was the fact that affluent, middle class parents are able to send their children into good, private schools whilst those of lower classes are left to struggle. State schools find it hard to attract good teachers, which has serious impacts on their students as they are left feeling uninspired. With 95% of the UK population sending their children to state schools, it is important to keep them well funded in order to give all children the education they deserve. Following the results of the Brexit referendum, it was clear that more has to be done to educate people, as a large proportion of those who voted to leave the EU had very low levels of education. This might be because schools are so focused on academic success and going on to study in higher education institutes, such as Oxford or Cambridge, rather than encouraging vocational qualifications.
Millar wanted us to keep in mind the fact that we should support local and comprehensive schools because they will suffer due to the lack of funding. Moreover, there are many changes happening to the education system, which is putting more pressure on students undergoing their GCSE’s and A levels. One student asked whether she thought the new GCSE curriculum and grading system has been beneficial. In her opinion, the exam system is manipulated in order to make the results look better, which is why the new system is unusual as it produces the same results as before. Millar finds it ‘demoralising’ that students are no longer able to do coursework in order to improve their final grade. If Millar could reform the system, she would get rid of the whole GCSE system and introduce the European baccalaureate system which has a more holistic approach. There were also some questions relating to being a female in the workplace. In regards to taking maternity leave, Millar said that she couldn’t cope with balancing work and her family at the same time as it caused her a lot of stress. She received a part time job working with the newspaper but it merely hindered her progression within the company. Until men ask to work part time and become more flexible (especially in high status jobs), then it will take time to reach gender equality, in Millar’s opinion. When she was starting her career, Millar thought she would become an editor of a women’s magazine had she not had to curtail her career due to having a child. Also, the topic of positive discrimination arose, whereby Millar said that it works well in the Labour Party, as there are now more women in the House of Commons. By encouraging female empowerment and making a change in home life and education, some sort of ‘social engineering’ could be achieved. Finally, the talk ended in true Camden style with a political discussion, mainly regarding Brexit…
Anna - Sixth Form Senior prefect