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CONNECT interview: Strong foundations at Elizabeth College

CONNECT interview: Strong foundations at Elizabeth College

Monday 02 January 2023

CONNECT interview: Strong foundations at Elizabeth College

Monday 02 January 2023


Over the past decade, the States have gradually reduced their funding of the grant-aided colleges. All three institutions have responded constructively and creatively and continue to thrive.

In 2006, pre-empting this trend, Elizabeth College formed a charitable foundation to increase private funding. It has been a huge success.

The Elizabeth College Foundation has raised many millions of pounds and led or contributed to countless projects from developing facilities to bursary awards. It is now an integral part of life at the College.

One of its most high profile projects was purchasing land to expand the College's footprint. With Perrot Court weeks away from opening, in the former Royal Bank of Canada building, CONNECT Editor Matt Fallaize (MF) found out more about the work of the Foundation with Dot Carruthers (DC), the College's Foundation and Marketing Director.

Their interview is reproduced here for Express.

Dot_Carruthers_Elizabeth_College_14.jpg

Pictured: Perrot Court - formerly Canada Court - is built around a courtyard on a site adjacent to the existing buildings at Elizabeth College.

MF: What is the status and purpose of the Elizabeth College Foundation?

DC: The Elizabeth College Foundation is a registered charity (technically two registered charities – in Guernsey CH91 and in England and Wales 1120954) created in order to fundraise for both facilities development and for bursaries.

This approach is common to many UK independent schools, where fundraising from alumni, parents, staff and other supporters is the only feasible alternative to a significant increases in fees.

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Pictured: A new walkway into Perrot Court to the east of the sports hall, which itself was a major development of the 1990s.

MF: When did you become Director of the Foundation and what was your working career before then?

DC: I have had a pretty interesting career history, which started with a ‘sandwich course’ degree from Bristol University in aeronautical engineering and working for British Aerospace (as was). I spent 10 years in various research, design and production roles working on missile propulsion systems and trajectory optimisation.

I then moved to Coopers & Lybrand (now PwC) as a Management Consultant, helping client organisations to achieve strategic change. My role specifically involved ensuring that clients actually achieved the benefits they hoped for from the implementation of new systems, through organisational development, training and re-engineering business processes.

It was a bit of a leap in early 2008 to take on my role as Foundation and Marketing Director, but in reality my career has always been very much around people – helping them to be clear about what they are trying to achieve and then putting the plans in place to achieve it.

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Pictured: Elizabeth College hopes to open Perrot Court this academic year.

MF: What have been the main achievements of the Foundation since it was formed in 2006?

DC: Thanks to the incredibly supportive College community, which encompasses former students, current and former parents, current and former staff and many others, the Foundation has achieved a huge amount in the past 16 years.

Through donations to three appeals, plus generous support from our Dead Donkey Club members, who have left a legacy to support the College in their wills, the most significant achievement is undoubtably establishing the Foundation bursary scheme.

But donors to the Foundation have also built the College refectory, two classrooms at the Junior School, the pavilion at the Memorial Field and purchased Perrot Court, as well as funding many other projects for which the College is hugely grateful.

At the other end of the scale, I’m also really proud of getting the ‘History of Elizabeth College’ book off the ground, written and published. I was bowled over by the fascinating history of the College when I started work here (459 years of it now) and really wanted to see that story preserved and recorded. The wonderful Bruce Parker (OE, former staff, BBC Journalist and author of the book) and I joke that we could have that specialist subject on Mastermind – but one of us would have to write the questions for the other to answer.

Dot_Carruthers_Elizabeth_College_11.jpg

Pictured: The school endeavours to celebrate its long history while continuing to evolve to meet modern needs and expectations. Perrot Court will open 460 years after the College was founded by Queen Elizabeth I. 

MF: Can you describe how the Foundation has grown and how important it has become in supporting the life of the College?

DC: The Foundation is fundamentally important to the College. One of the really significant aspects of Elizabeth College is our diverse intake – academically, economically, socially and any other way you would like to categorise it.

Our fees are actually 1/3rd lower than the UK independent school average, and that means they are affordable to a larger proportion of the population. Without the significant contribution of Foundation fundraising, fees would inevitably have to rise, and the College would become more elitist, to the detriment of all.

There are a lot of people involved in the Foundation: the brilliant Sara and Jennie in the office, the Trustees and fundraising team members who voluntarily give up huge swathes of their time, as well as many other members of staff and the College community. The Foundation would not be the success it is without the contribution of all of them.

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Pictured (l to r): Laura Priaulx, who has a senior role in the development of Perrot Court, and Dot standing in what will soon be the new school library. 

MF: What do you enjoy most about your role and what do you find the biggest challenges and frustrations?

DC: It has been a real privilege meeting the very many people who have a strong fondness for the College. Attendees at Old Elizabethan Association dinners, participants in our various Foundation committees, members of the Dead Donkey Club enjoying events and get togethers, and simply OEs who may not have been back to school since they left 50 years ago popping in to say hello. They all have stories to tell and support the College and our students in so many different ways.

It’s also enjoyable working in a school environment where the output (remember I’m an engineer) is young people ready, prepared and able to go out and make their way in the world. It is great to contribute to that.

Of course, there are frustrations, too, and ever-increasing requirements in a world of GDPR, anti-money laundering, compliance, and such like. All fundamentally right and important, but additional barriers to climb nevertheless.

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Pictured: Perrot Court will provide Elizabeth College with several floors of additional learning and recreational space, including dedicated facilities for sixth formers.

MF: How have you seen the College evolve or change during your time as Foundation Director?

DC: I’ve been here nearly 15 years and am on my third Principal so there has been a lot of change.

With my marketing hat on, it is pleasing to see that the College and the Junior School have steadily grown in numbers over that time. We are essentially full in every year now.

But the biggest change is clearly the College moving to co-education, at the Junior School in 2008 and into Year 7 for the first time in 2021. With four year groups at the Upper School now containing girls, it genuinely does feel like they’ve always been here.

Co-education is undoubtably a good thing for all of our students, preparing them for a world where equality is a given and enabling girls to benefit from the very broad opportunities that Elizabeth College offers.

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Pictured: Elizabeth College now has girls as well as boys in years 7 and 8 and both sixth form years. It plans to become fully co-educational over the next few years. 

MF: In recent years, the Foundation has operated a bursary scheme. How did the bursary scheme originate and what is its purpose?

DC: With the 11+ and associated special places scheme under threat for a long time before it was finally culled, the creation of a bursary scheme has been an objective of the Foundation ever since it was formed.

In honesty, we thought it was a 25-year project to establish a sustainable fund, but the immense generosity of OE Roger Perrot, a firm believer in the scheme having benefitted from a special place himself, enabled us to welcome the first Foundation bursary scheme students in September 2021.

The means-tested bursaries enable a place to be taken by a child who could benefit from all the opportunities on offer at Elizabeth College but whose family circumstances are such that they could not afford the fees.

The scheme undoubtably benefits both those bursary holders and their fellow students and helps ensure College maintains its diverse community, which has long been a feature of the school.

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Pictured: This image on the College website reveals the number and range of projects undertaken by the Foundation.

MF: How is the bursary scheme funded, what is the value of bursaries awarded so far and how do you think the bursary scheme might develop in the future?

DC: The Foundation Trustees have established a bursary fund which is a professionally managed portfolio of investments. Foundation bursaries are funded from the investment income, including income from renting out some of the parking spaces under Perrot Court.

Our initial scheme offers up to five 100% bursaries a year to students entering into Year 7 and up to three into sixth form. All bursaries are means-tested and specific to the financial situation of the family concerned, covering 25-100% of fees with 100% bursaries our first priority.

The scheme is currently funding 16 students and we anticipate this will rise to 20 next year. We know that we will need to continue to fundraise to ensure the medium- to long-term sustainability of the scheme, which implicitly depends on investment performance.

Ultimately, it would be lovely to be able to offer more places, though we are unlikely ever to rival the old special places scheme of 23 fully-funded places per year.

Dot_Carruthers_Elizabeth_College_3.jpg

Pictured: Laura and Dot have worked closely together on the redevelopment at Perrot Court. They and their colleagues are now also looking ahead to future projects, which will include redeveloping the Ozanne building in the north-east of the site. 

MF: Are cost of living pressures affecting demand for places at the College and are you seeing any material difference in how hard or easy it is to attract parents and students?

DC: Cost of living pressures are a challenge for everyone and we all know Guernsey is not a cheap place to live. The College has done its best to contain fee increases as far as possible but there is continual pressure on budgets.

Demand for places at Elizabeth College has remained very strong and the Foundation bursary scheme has enabled us to offer financial assistance in some circumstances.

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Pictured: The iconic main building was designed to accommodate 150 students nearly 200 years ago. The site has been added to and refurbished many times since but the expansion into Perrot Court is the College's most ambitious development project in decades.

MF: Elizabeth College is expanding its footprint and facilities. Please tell us about the project to develop Perrot Court, including how the Foundation has been involved.

DC: The expansion into Perrot Court is really exciting for the College and a game-changer in regard to the quality of the College’s facilities.

With roll numbers growing and the complexity of a modern education ever increasing, the opportunity to expand into the building next door was irresistible. The purchase of the building was one of the objectives of the 2019 ‘Chance of a Lifetime’ appeal, alongside establishing a bursary fund. The Foundation Team was delighted that the generosity of donors to the appeal, including the legacy from Roger Perrot, meant that both of these fundamentally important objectives were achieved.

One of the things that is interesting about the Perrot Court building is that it is built on land which was part of the grounds assigned to the school by the Royal Commissioners back in the 16th century, as indeed was the Cimetiere des Freres and the land off Ann’s Place adjacent to St. James. Now that the bridge across from the main building forecourt has been built, the new building already feels like an intrinsic part of the College campus.

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Pictured: After a career in engineering and management consultancy, Dot says "it was a bit of a leap in 2008 to take on my role as Foundation and Marketing Director" at the College.

MF: When do you hope to open Perrot Court and how will it change the experience of students and staff at the College?

DC: We are on track to move into Perrot Court over the first half of the Lent term and hope officially to open the building in March. We did initially think we would be in the building now but have inevitably suffered from construction delays.

Perrot Court will give our students the big open spaces which we don’t have in our existing buildings and will include a beautiful new library and purpose-designed sixth form centre as well as classrooms, meeting rooms, offices and the main College reception. It is going to have a real wow factor and we can’t wait to show it off.

Jenny Palmer Elizabeth College

Pictured: Jenny Palmer has overseen the permanent admission of girls in most year groups and the development of Perrot Court since her appointment as Elizabeth College Principal in 2017.

MF: Can you summarise the values and the offer of the College which the Foundation tries to promote within the community locally and further afield?

DC: One word stands out for me when thinking about Elizabeth College - and it is ‘family’. There are many different groupings within the family at different times, but almost all who have walked through the gates seem to retain that link back to the College community.

OEs say they never forget their number (though quite a few do in honesty) and we joke about staff never leaving, as so many come back again, sometimes in a different guise or increasingly part-time.

Elizabeth College has a place in the hearts of many people in Guernsey and all over the world and I feel privileged to have been part of that.

Credit for pictures: Paul Chambers and Elizabeth College.

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