It is a bastion of female learning, an elite boarding school perched dramatically over the English Channel, that prides itself on nurturing the character of its girls as much as its enviable educational achievements.
But Roedean’s reputation for gentility and decorum is now under threat because of a bitter squabble between its trustees and a group of former pupils that has – allegedly – spilled over into physical confrontation.
At its core are said to be fears among some old girls that boys could be allowed into the school for the first time in its 135-year history – a prospect that has sparked a series of explosive rows that have led to high-level legal action between the factions.
Allegations have flown about questionable financial decisions at the school, where fees can be as much as £40,000. Such claims are strenuously denied by those in charge.
A row over the future of top girl’s boarding school, Roedean, (pictured) near Brighton, sparked claims of fracas between ex-pupils. Some fear the headmaster Oliver Blond, appointed in 2013, wants to overturn the school’s 135-year history and allow boys into Roedean for first time
Discontent apparently brewed after the arrival of head teacher Oliver Blond in 2013.
A reforming character, he has been praised for improving results and almost doubling pupil numbers, but some fear he wants to overturn decades of history to make the school co-educational.
Roedean, set on clifftops near Brighton, was founded in 1885 by the Lawrence sisters, Penelope, Dorothy and Millicent, to prepare girls for the newly opened women’s colleges at Cambridge University.
Its traditions, enshrined in a 1938 Royal charter and encapsulated in the school motto Honour The Worthy, are safeguarded by 3,300 governors, all old girls.
Former pupil Emily Campbell claims Mr Blond revealed his ambition to admit male students during a 2014 lunch with her at Claridge’s hotel in London. ‘His eyes lit up and he said, “I want boys running all over the playing fields,” ’ she claimed.
‘I said, “My one word of advice, Oliver, is don’t try to go around the governors.” The overriding thing is the headmaster is determined to get boys at Roedean.’
The bitter squabble allegedly spilled over into physical confrontation at the Caledonian club in London last year. Former Roedean pupil Emily Campbell (pictured) claimed she was struck by an old girl. The woman involved denied slapping Ms Campbell
However, the school strenuously denies having any plans to enrol boys.
In what they say was a bid to protect the school’s charter that dictates the make-up of the governing body six governors formed a breakaway group, which has clashed repeatedly with the board of trustees, known as the Council.
In 2018, the rebels sued trustees for defamation after a letter to all the governors suggested they posed a ‘threat’ to the school and had been passing themselves off, deceitfully, as an official group.
The rebels instructed libel lawyers Carter Ruck while the Council recruited Schillings, another heavyweight legal firm.
The matter was settled out of court last year, and the Council’s then chairman, Roger Sanders, withdrew the previous claims in a letter.
Buoyed by their success, the rebels had three of their supporters elected as trustees at last year’s annual meeting of governors held at the Caledonian club in London.
It wasn’t long, however, before the atmosphere soured. Another old girl accused Ms Campbell of knocking into her, which allegedly led to another altercation as they filed into a formal dinner.
‘She was standing in the middle of the room shouting at me,’ claimed Ms Campbell. ‘I had already apologised for supposedly barging into her. So I just went “Anyway, it’s lovely to see you again”, cutting her off from her rant about how awful I am, and turned to face my table.
‘At which point she shouted “You are awful” and with a straight arm and a flat hand put her arm back straight like a rounders bat and whacked me with her right hand on my left shoulder.’
Students laugh as they celebrate their A Level results from Roedean School in Brighton in 2019
Roedean School (pictured), is set to move history classes away from Britain’s ‘island story’ and instead teach students about world events in a wider context
The account was backed by another old girl, who says she recalled Ms Campbell being ‘slapped’, adding: ‘It was appalling behaviour.
‘There was no outcry and the fight did not escalate. I told friends about the evening and the fisticuffs because it was so extraordinary.’
The woman involved denied slapping Ms Campbell.
The feud burst into the open last month when another of the rebels, Helen Jefferies, 60, a former City trader, posted two videos on YouTube in which she branded the school’s accounts ‘a disgrace’.
The focus of the latest round of acrimony is an alleged drop in the school’s profits and the circumstances of a £300,000 loan made by Roedean to a nearby mixed prep school, which the rebel governors claim breaches Roedean’s charter.
Last night, Vivien Smiley, interim chairman of the Council, said the loan was made by Roedean’s trading subsidiary in an ‘entirely appropriate way’.
She added: ‘To suggest that there is a strategic plan to turn Roedean co-educational is simply not the case.’ Such a step was prevented by the charter, she said.
And black Tudors ‘decolonise’ lessons
TRUMPETER: John Blanke was a Royal trumpeter in the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII but he is the only black Tudor for whom there is an identifiable image
Girls at Roedean will learn about the slave trade and black Tudors as it becomes one of the first private schools to rewrite its history syllabus in the wake of this year’s Black Lives Matter protests.
It will abandon the so-called ‘island story’ championed by Michael Gove when he was Education Secretary in a bid to challenge the ‘white Western narrative’.
Pupils will learn about Sara Forbes Bonetta, who was sold to slavery but later mentored by Queen Victoria, and who became godmother to her child.
They will also hear how Africans helped resist slavery, the legacy of the trade in Brighton, and the Song dynasty in China from 960 to 1279.
Historians say there is evidence of hundreds of Africans in Tudor Britain between 1500 and 1640.
One, John Blanke, was a Royal trumpeter in the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII but he is the only black Tudor for whom there is an identifiable image.
Pupils at the school aged 11 to 14 will learn about Queen Victoria’s goddaughter Sara Forbes Bonetta (pictured), a west African princess who was enslaved before being rescued and brought to England
Roedean headmaster Oliver Blond said: ‘We wanted to challenge the predominantly Western European narrative and to look beyond the limitations of Britain’s island story, to discover hidden histories both nationally and internationally.’ Older pupils will continue with more conventional history lessons.
Mr Gove, who was Education Secretary from 2010 to 2014, said at the time that history classes should focus on Britain, claiming the ‘trashing of our past has to stop’.