Bolton School Former Pupils

Judith Knott

Judith Knott (née Kenyon, 1970-1978)

I must have been rather a swotty type at School, musical but definitely not arty or sporty.  I went on to study Modern and Medieval Languages (German and Russian) at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, having insisted against all advice on applying to one of the old ‘male’ Cambridge colleges, which were just starting to open their doors to women.  After Cambridge I initially followed an academic path, with a PhD in Historical Linguistics at SOAS, University of London, and five years as a research assistant there.  To those who graduate knowing exactly what they want to do in life, it might appear that I wasted my twenties instead of climbing the career ladder, but I emerged with a husband, a daughter born in 1987 – and an ability to touch-type which has served me well in the digital age!

Academic jobs were few and uncertain, so I joined the civil service in 1989, to become a tax inspector.  Since then I have worked mainly on corporate tax, in a range of technical, policy and management roles.  One of the most interesting and fast-paced experiences was spending three years in HM Treasury, during the period when Gordon Brown was Chancellor.  I became a Director in HM Revenue & Customs in 2009 and have had a range of responsibilities, including international and corporate tax policy and anti-avoidance work.  Since last year I have been Director of Large Business, leading over 2000 staff in 20 offices around the country.  We are responsible for the tax affairs of the largest 2000 businesses in the UK, which pay around £200 billion a year across all taxes – that’s a lot of schools and hospitals!

What is your connection to Bolton School? Were any other members of your family here?

My sister, Susan Haslam (née Kenyon), was at Bolton School from 1973-1981, and my father, Frank Kenyon, attended the Boys’ Division in the 1940s.

What is your fondest Bolton School memory?

My fondest memory is of my very small German set for O-level (GCSEs) and A-level.  We would collapse into fits of laughter on Friday afternoons with Julien Harvatt, and the German weekends at Cautley were very special.  Singing in the School choirs would come a close second.

Did any member of teaching staff particularly inspire you while you were at School?

I remember a collection of great role models of (mainly single) women dedicated to their careers and to educating us in the widest sense.  In particular, I would mention Julien Harvatt, who gave me a life-long love of German, and Cynthia Bowman, who was very kind when I started aged 10 and used to chat to my father on Bolton market.  I also admired Miss Falla (who was probably the best-dressed mistress), and am thankful that, after careful persuasion from my father, she arranged the timetable to allow me to combine maths and languages A-levels.  Last but not least, I remember Miss Higginson, for her assemblies of Tolkien’s Leaf by Niggle, and her exhortations to ‘walk purposefully’ (I now do so with blackberry in hand) and to be ‘public-spirited’, which influenced my eventual choice of career.

What do you feel your experience at Bolton School has given to you personally?

I used to be described as diffident at School, but I think my education bred a lack of intellectual fear, and an ability not to be daunted by challenge.  This has been useful in my civil service career.  I also have a lifelong love of languages, which I’m pleased to have been able to pass on to my daughter.  The flip side of this is that I’m known as a grammatical pedant.

What is the best career advice you can give to Bolton School pupils today?

My first piece of advice is to find a partner who will be supportive towards your career aspirations, particularly if you want children.  The second is to do something you feel makes a difference to the world.

What do you think about Bolton School’s 100 Campaign aim to re-establish genuine open access through its bursary fund?

I benefited from a free, local authority place at Bolton School, and I think this kind of education should be available to all regardless of their means.  Having said that, we chose to educate my daughter at a local mixed comprehensive school, where she thrived and went on to study at Cambridge – so this kind of school experience isn’t the only option.

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