Queenswood celebrates the birth of a new tradition

26th July 1996 at 01:00
Cheltenham Ladies' College overturned almost 150 years of tradition earlier this month when it appointed a married woman with two young sons as head.

But the appointment didn't raise an eyebrow at Queenswood, a girls' boarding school in Hertfordshire, where from September the principal's flat will be occupied for the first time by a married woman head, her husband and their baby.

Clarissa Farr, 38, an English graduate from Exeter University, has been deputy head at the school for four years and was eight months pregnant when she was interviewed for the principal's post. She has since given birth to baby Isabel, who will have had her first birthday by the time her mother takes charge of the century-old school in September.

Ms Farr admits she was in two minds about whether to apply when Audrey Butler, Queenswood's principal of 15 years and a divorcee, announced in the spring last year that she was retiring.

"I realised that by the time it got to interview stage I'd be very obviously pregnant and it was bound to be an issue," she says. "I asked Ms Butler's advice on whether it was worth giving it a go and she said 'Yes', so I did."

Ms Farr describes the school's governors as "forward-thinking" and believes they, like her, value the role of spouse and parent in a headteacher. "I can represent for the pupils a kind of role model that's modern and will give the right image for the school in the future."

Girls at Queenswood, whose parents pay up to Pounds 11,958 for a boarding place, already expect to have both a career and a family when they grow up. "I think my appointment is saying you can do it without guilt, and it can make you better at what you do and perhaps a better parent as well."

Her husband John Goodbody, a sports correspondent on The Times, has agreed to sell the family home in north London and move into the principal's large four-bedroom flat with baby Isabel, plus her one-and-a-half nannies (the "half" is a Japanese student). They already have a cottage in Norfolk to which they can retreat. "Boarding school life is very intensive and you need a lot of stamina to be able to do it well and give quality time to your family," says Ms Farr. "But I've got the opportunity almost to work from home."

The plus-side of living over the shop, so to speak, is the proximity to Isabel and an endless supply of babysitters - since most of the 395 girls are boarding. "Far from being neglected, I think we'll have to watch that Isabel isn't spoiled," says her mother.

The disadvantages include a lack of privacy and being on call, but Ms Farr intends to make it clear that her family's home is sacred territory. "We will have to sacrifice some privacy - it's a real threat in a job like this - but I'll start as I mean to go on."

Free use of the indoor swimming pool and tennis courts which double as the Herts County Tennis Centre must count as bonuses. Ms Farr has found parents, staff and friends generally supportive, though she has met with some disapproval. "Women of my mother's generation didn't work and raise children. I think part of them feels what I'm doing is great while another part feels: 'Why should she have it all?' The phrase: 'Having your cake and eating it' has probably been used in relation to me somewhere or other."

She could not have contemplated the job without her husband's backing - his support will be vital, she says.

"I think, if anything, John was keener on me getting the job than I was. He certainly sees my job as of equal status to his and, because of the nature of his work, he's able to plan his time so he does quite a bit of childcare. "

John says he's "very proud. Clarissa comes across to a lot of parents as the sort of woman they'd like their daughters to grow up to be."

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