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Denmark Road High School

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Monica Louie Sims OBE (27 October 1925 – 20 November 2018)

In the summer of 1943 Monica Sims graduated from Denmark Road High School.  As the tide of World War II was finally beginning to turn, she took her place at St Hugh’s College in Oxford University to read English.

At Denmark Road High School we are inspiring students to challenge the patriarchy and bring about change.  The future leaders who will be graduating this upcoming summer are driven and are fearless.  They are following in the footsteps of Monica Sims some 77 years earlier. 

Monica joined the male-dominated BBC in 1953 working as a radio producer before taking her first major role as editor of Woman’s Hour in 1964.   Benefiting from her male bosses opting not listen to the show, she used this unexpected freedom and personal drive to promote “health, mental or social problems, religious doubts, financial difficulties, sexual orientation and childcare, all suggested by listeners’ letters” challenging the broadcasting taboos of the day. 

Monica rose to become the most senior woman in the corporation in the 1980s.  As head of children’s television she fought hard for the right of children to have “the best possible service”.  She introduced groundbreaking shows including Newsround, The Wombles and Grange Hill.  She finished her career at the BBC as controller of her beloved Radio 4. 

Denmark Road High School has reshaped its curriculum to blend oracy with academia.  Monica was noted for her ability to quickly get the making of a person and to win an argument.  She did not suffer fools.  She stood up for her beliefs even if they were unpopular or ahead of her time.  She infamously turned down the opportunity to commission the popular Sesame Street show alluding to its apparent aim “to change children’s behaviour”.  Her support for drama against the rising tide of rolling news programming was never more apparent than her refusal to break into the broadcast of a Radio 4 play to announce the end of the Falklands War.

After her retirement from the BBC she was commissioned to write a report on the shortage of women in management.  Her findings included the need for flexible working hours for women with children, the introduction of part-time working and parental leave for fathers.  The latter was the only one of her eighteen suggestions not accepted at that time.  21st century Denmark Road students are living up to Monica’s legacy; students ready to go into the world to respect people, understand people and be the voice of the people. 

Monica passed away in November 2018 at the age of 93.   She was a proud Gloucester-born Denmark Road alum.   She spoke fondly of her time at Denmark Road. Specifically she  recalled a talk she witnessed from an elderly suffragette who addressed the senior girls.  This talk took place in our wonderful school hall some 80 years ago.  It was the first time Monica was to realise the potential of women to make a positive difference in the world beyond their traditional gender based roles.   I am immensely humbled to let you know that Monica left £20,000 to the school’s Help Us Grow fundraising campaign and a further £20,000 donation to the school’s PTA association. 

With this legacy gift, the Help Us Grow campaign has now raised £63,000.   This money has already enabled us to improve the Denmark experience for our students.  £3000 of donations have contributed to the purchase of the Satchel One (Show My Homework) app.  £11,000 has been used to support our young people with the provision of a qualified counsellor.   £8000 has been spent to improve curriculum provision, funding the choice of two languages from Year 7 and providing new textbooks in Sociology.  Further donations from the PTA to the campaign have funded the creation of the Sixth Form Café and furniture for the outstanding new independent and group study rooms.  Most recently, we have used donations to support our LRC with funding for World Book Day events and the purchase of books for the Carnegie Challenge. 

Reaching our fundraising target of £125,000 will allow us to continue to offer the Denmark Road Difference that has made us the Sunday Times Southwest State Secondary School of the Year and more.  We are proud to be DenmarkRoad365 and your donations will support this.  Our IT facilities urgently require updating.  The laptops your daughters and sons use in Science, Languages and DT are now ten years old and are no longer fit for purpose.  Replacing these 90 laptops will cost £54,000.  Would you be willing to fund one of those laptops for our students to use?

Our achievements in the Arts are a defining feature of Denmark Road life.  The recent musical production of Singing in the Rain was a fantastic showcase of student talent.  However, once again we spent thousands hiring equipment.  If we did have our own it would mean improved performance quality at all events: our talented musicians, dancers, singers and actors deserve this. We need £30,000 to develop staging, lighting, sound. This would also be used by our existing Drama GCSE students and our future A Level Theatre Studies cohort beginning in September 2021.

There are three days to go until International Woman’s Day.  A call for action for an equal world.  This Sunday, I will be thinking of Monica Sims.  An astonishing woman who overcame gender bias to achieve remarkable things. 

I am proud her legacy will make a fantastic impact on our current and future students.  I am proud that she has forged pathways for our students to follow.  I am proud that she is Denmark Road.


Miss Monica Sims wrote this piece in the Jubilee Journal (1958), about her memories of school:

"Many of my memories are of wartime but some date from before the war.  One of the first things I remember is of chasing upstairs to the top floor for mid-morning lunch and thinking it was quite an achievement to manage to run up two at a time!  (It didn't seem such an achievement later when in the Lower Fourth I had my  form prefect's badge taken away because I disobeyed a School Prefect who told me to walk up one at a time).  The reason for our haste was so that we could get there in time for the penny chocolate bars or penny buns.   During the war, out mid-morning snacks were jam sandwiches and I can still remember the taste of the margarine.  Sometimes, we evolved complicated schemes for taking it in turn to bring dripping cakes to school but we always seemed to be hungry.

All my contemporaries must have many wartime memories; leaving notes in our desks for the girls from Birmingham who shared the school when they were evacuated to Gloucester; air raid practices, first aid classes, the nuisance of always carrying gas marks about; but the most vivid of all to mee was due to the "Grow more Food" campaign when on wintry afternoon, instead of thee enjoyable gym lesson we had looked forward to all day, we were driven by Miss Durston to pick the caterpillars off the cabbages in the allotment on the playing field.   The atmosphere of seething injustice while we put the shining yellow things into jam jars was of an intensity which starts revolutions in more practically minded communities.

A much pleasanter experience was fire-watching at school, partly because it made us feel grown up and responsible.  Not only had we arrived in the Sixth Form but we were alo capable of fire-watching!   We took it in turns to sleep on camp beds but were usually too excited and too conscious of the empty echoing school all around us or the hard army blankets touching us to get much sleep.  The best part of it was sitting up in Dr White's room gossiping and trying one of the Woodbines (or were they Stars?) which she left on the mantelpiece.  I suppose now that these must have been intended for the Staff but we assumed that they were for us and took them as another sign of our adult status.

I cannot think of any one reminiscence which sums up the atmosphere of life at school in my day, only an assortment of pictures, sounds, and especially, feelings; the shiver of guilt when Miss Higgins said "Upper Fifth, I'm waiting"; the excitement of running flat out down the hockey pitch; the envy inspired by watching Susie Goscomb and Gwen Hudson play tennis; the pride in wearing high-heeled shoes as Light in "The Blue Bird" (to make me look taller than Elizabeth Logan); the exasperation of working for yet another term at the gathers on my greying cooking overall; the apprehension of waiting outside the Staff Room door for examination results; the  pleasure of a word of praise from Miss Tatham; the shame or smugness atg hearing one's name called out in the reading of Grades after Prayers in the Hall.

It's strange how many of the things I think of when the word 'school' is mentioned centre around the hall.  My outstanding visual memory of school is of acres of slippery polished wood block floor in an enormous clean and clinical space.  It iss sstill slippery but not nearly so big or awe-inspiring and I wonder whether Old Girls have the same impression.