Julien E L Harvatt
Public Orator, Professor John Feather, presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Congregation held on the morning of Friday 12 July 2002.
Schools lie at the heart of this critical
process. They are the only part of the educational system which is experienced
by everyone. On their success rests the success of all of us. Schools
may fail for many reasons, but they succeed for one reason only
the quality of the work of those who teach in them. This University is
honoured to honour a distinguished teacher.
Julien Harvatt was born in Sheffield,
where her father was the Head Master of City Grammar School. She herself
was educated at Sheffield High School where she was Head Girl. She then
went to Westfield College, a college of London University which existed
to promote the education of women. She read for a degree in German; it
is alleged that she chose that language rather than French because French
was too easy! Her choice of career was never in doubt; she returned to
Sheffield to take a Diploma in Education at the university there. Her
first post was there too, but after a short time she moved across the
Pennines to Bolton School where she taught in what was then called the
Girls Division of that foundation. It would be wrong, however,
to think of Julien Harvatt as someone whose life revolved only around
German irregular verbs. She was an enthusiastic and skilful tennis player,
and had already developed two other interests which were to remain with
her for the rest of her life travel and music. Indeed her musical
and linguistic interests came together in a life-long passion for Wagner.
By her early 30s, Julien Harvatt was
well established in her career, and a headship was in her sights. But
the headship which came to her was an astonishing testimony both to her
achievements and potential and perhaps more surprisingly
to the vision of those who appointed her. At the age of 34, she became
Head Mistress of Loughborough High School, a place with a firm claim to
a pioneering role in the education of women, for it is the oldest girls
grammar school in England. She was to remain there for the rest of her
She did not come to Loughborough at
an easy time. The High School, like Loughborough Grammar which is the
boys school in the same foundation, had just taken the bold decision to
become independent following the end of the direct grant system. The decision
was controversial in the town, and confronted the new Head with many issues
not faced by her predecessor. The school she found was largely staffed
by teachers considerably older than she was. But she won their support,
not least because it soon became obvious that the new Head Mistress was
a remarkable woman. Her energy and enthusiasm were boundless; her commitment
without limits. The school was her first and sometimes it seemed her only
concern. It was said of her that she had a tendency to speak her
mind; the understatement belies the passion with which she promoted
what she believed to be necessary, defended what she believed to be right,
and opposed what she considered to be wrong. Yet beneath the sometimes
stern exterior there was always a woman to whom pupils were not mere examinees;
they were people not numbers. Does Miss Harvatt never forget a name?
one of them once asked. No she does not.
The physical transformation of the
High School was one of the outward symbols of her time there. The corridors
when she arrived retained much of their Victorian appearance a
few years later they would probably have had a preservation order slapped
on them. Miss Harvatt swept away green wall tiles and red floor tiles;
paint, wallpaper and carpets made an unprecedented appearance. But standards
did not slip in the face of such softness. Indeed, they did the exact
opposite. Julien Harvatt arrived in a school which was facing an uncertain
future both educationally and financially. She tackled the first with
gusto, believing that the solutions to the second would follow. A school
which many girls left after GCSE as O-level was just becoming
was within a decade to be one in which virtually every entrant went on
to university, and which was consistently in the top handful of schools
in the league tables which she despised but could quite never forbear
to quote. The success of the school led to an increase in pupil numbers,
and further physical transformations. As one building project succeeded
another Miss Harvatt added to her skills those of an adept Clerk of Works
whom contractors were ill-advised to treat lightly.
Providing a good environment in which
to learn was however only one part of the enterprise. It is typical of
her that as a member of the Council of this University, her concerns focused
on student services. At the heart of her work there was always a passion
for the education of her pupils. Her own contribution to this never ceased
she continued to teach German to the end of her time at the school.
What happened in the classroom was of course at the centre of things,
but life beyond the classroom door and indeed the school grounds
was never neglected. Music, drama and art flourished with her support
and encouragement. Sporting achievements not least in tennis
were outstanding. And girls from the High School are always to be found
supporting good causes in the town and far beyond. Indeed, her sadness
at the inevitable end of boarding at the School reflected her concern
that there would be some loss of the sense of community. That there was
not is another tribute to her leadership.
Indeed she is a natural leader in all
that she does. On holiday in Egypt with her widowed mother and a friend,
the party decided that they must visit St Catherines monastery on
Mount Sinai. Air-conditioned minibuses were not an option. The three mounted
their camels with other tourists, each beast led cautiously by a male
guide. Or to be precise each beast except Julien Harvatts.
She rode through the biblical wilderness and up the mountain not merely
with no guide to lead her camel, but at the head of the procession. No
girl who has passed through Loughborough High School would be remotely
surprised to hear that story.
But the greatest tribute to her lies
in the thousands of women of distinction in the professions, in business,
in the arts and in the public service for whom their years under Julien
Harvatts firm but benevolent guidance laid the foundations for their
careers and their lives. In the end, for any teacher, that is what really
Therefore, Chancellor, I present to you and to the whole University, Julien Elisabeth Lindsey Harvatt for the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.
Copyright © Loughborough University. All rights reserved.