I do often wonder if my life would have turned out quite the way it has if Ipswich School hadn’t taken a chance on me as a slightly precocious “girly swot” of an 11-year-old.
It is of course impossible to know for sure, but I have no doubt it would have been considerably less likely that I would have had available both the opportunities I have had, and the confidence to take them, if it wasn’t for the seven years I spent at Ipswich School. I’m fortunate in that I’ve always been clever, and have parents who were determined that I take advantage of that good fortune. I was less fortunate to be at a state primary school where being clever made you a target; the teachers were generally wonderful, but my experiences with some fellow pupils meant I was desperate to get away from that system by the time secondary school came around. Perhaps there was a time when my parents would have tried saving up for a private education for me, but then life intervened. Redundancy. Divorce. House repossession. A new reliance on benefits to keep on top of the bills. All of this meant that the idea of spending tens of thousands of pounds on school fees was now completely laughable.
I will forever be grateful to Ipswich School (and the benefactors who make the Bursary scheme possible) for the wonderful opportunity they gave me.
I’m sure we all thought that this particular dream was over. That is, until we heard of these things called bursaries that some private schools offered to children who had plenty of academic potential, but who were from a financially disadvantaged background. And make no mistake about it, low income families are massively disadvantaged in so many walks of life – education, health, social mobility. The fact that some organisations try to do what they can to mitigate some of this disadvantage, even if they’re only in a position to do so for a small number of people, continues to amaze me.
I will forever be grateful to Ipswich School (and the benefactors who make the Bursary scheme possible) for the wonderful opportunity they gave me. My time at Ipswich School was genuinely an incredibly happy period of my life. Being pushed academically now became an expectation, rather than a surprise, and having the opportunity to be taught by such knowledgeable, passionate teaching staff was such an amazing feeling. In the Sixth Form, I became captain of the netball team, and also Head Girl. On Thursday afternoons older pupils had the opportunity to do more extra-curricular activities. For this, I spent four years helping out at two local special schools, which taught me a huge amount of patience and empathy, and has left me with life skills I still use to this day in my current career in paediatrics. One of the enduring effects of my time at Ipswich School was in giving me confidence to push myself, and to feel more at ease in a wide variety of surroundings.
I genuinely believe being awarded this bursary changed my life.
The advantages of a good education don’t just come from what you learn in the classroom. There were too many teachers who had an impact on me during this time for me to name them all, but there are two in particular to whom I will always owe a particular debt of gratitude. The first was Karen Hoskins. She was a brilliant teacher and someone I could talk to if I was worried about anything. That sort of pastoral support completely embodied the spirit of the school. The second one was Gareth Jones, my Sixth Form Chemistry teacher. If it wasn’t for a slightly off-the-cuff (and typically gruff) comment from him – “McFarland, have you thought about applying to Oxbridge?” – I may never have thought about pushing myself in that particular direction. But that’s what happened. An application to Cambridge University to read medicine. An acceptance letter that arrived at school and was delivered to me in a biology class. And then off to Downing College, Cambridge as the first person in my immediate family to even go to university. I spent three very happy years studying pre-clinical medicine there, before transferring to King’s College London to complete my training, where I graduated with an MBBS with Distinctions in Clinical Sciences and Clinical Practice. I then spent two years in the North East of England as a Foundation doctor (“House Officer”, as it once was) before taking a year out to live and work in Christchurch, New Zealand, which was just the most amazing experience.
I then returned to the UK to start paediatric training in the East Midlands, which is where I’m still working currently, now as a paediatric registrar (senior doctor). I have also now completed all of my postgraduate exams, which has given me a few more letters for the end of my name. I’ve recently bought a house in Derbyshire with my partner, with my eye now on “buying a dog” as my next major life goal. As I look back over these things I’ve done since leaving Ipswich School, I sometimes still can’t quite believe how lucky I’ve been. I will always be grateful to the school for giving me the knowledge, the skills and the ambition to achieve what I have, while continuing to reflect on how unfair it is that these same opportunities aren’t available to all children. I genuinely believe being awarded this bursary changed my life. One day I hope to be in a position to help another child from a disadvantaged background have access to the same sort of education I did.
Dr Hannah McFarland MA (Cantab) MBBS MRCPCH (OI 1999-2006)