Bolton School Former Pupils

Professor Jill Clayton-Smith

Professor Jill Clayton-Smith (née Clayton, 1970-1977)

I am a Professor in Medical Genetics at the University of Manchester.  I went to Bolton School at the age of eleven and attended from 1970 to 1977. I had been awarded a scholarship by Lancashire County Council which covered both my fees and travel expenses, without which I would not have been able to attend Bolton School. I came from a traditional working class background; neither of my parents went to University, but they did value education. On the first day of School my father took me to the bus stop and told me to follow everyone else who was wearing the same uniform. This was the start of great friendships between all of the girls and boys on the Chorley bus, some of which have endured for over 40 years.

Third Form was daunting; I was nowhere near as outgoing as most of the other girls, had never done homework before and was definitely a bit more shabbily dressed when I think back. But I loved it; there were so many opportunities for me to do things I had never done, from team sports and life-saving to making baskets; I can’t say I excelled at most of these, but I was enthusiastic and grew in confidence.
One of the things that probably changed my life was not being put in the top set for science at the end of first year. It wasn’t surprising, I didn’t appreciate the concept of revision until after those first exams; but I was taken aback and thereafter put enormous effort into chemistry, physics and biology. I was determined at that stage to be a chemistry teacher. Miss Corkhill, my biology teacher, spotted some promise and was the person who first suggested I think about doing medicine. This seemed an unattainable goal; our family had no medical background and I was not sure how to go about things; but the idea grew and as I did so many other activities I actually received five offers for medical school at the end of Sixth Form. Not being too adventurous at that stage, and bowing to a bit of family pressure, I stayed close to home and went to Manchester Medical School where I had a fantastic time. I was less inhibited by then and medicine, with its mix of science and people skills, suited me perfectly. Remaining true to the stereotype of the Bolton School-girl, I was enthusiastic about every branch of medicine I tried and couldn’t make up my mind what to do. Then, whilst working in obstetrics, I became exposed to the specialty of Clinical Genetics and this discipline, involving a lot of talking to people, together with cutting-edge science, was perfect for me. I have worked in the field for twenty-five years now and still look forward to going to work every day. I have spent quite a lot of time doing research. My writing skills – which were apparently lacking at one stage (according to my School reports) – have actually served me very well and I have notched up a thesis for my MD qualification and many medical publications, becoming a Professor of Medical Genetics along the way. I have been involved in the development of the expanding specialty of Clinical Genetics, in the training of our junior staff and other doctors and in cutting-edge scientific initiatives such as the current UK 100,000 genomes initiative. From being rather parochial I have turned into an international traveler, as I lecture widely on my subject, and I have also taken on leadership roles, including being President of the UK Clinical Genetics Society. I am the first to acknowledge that there are many who are far cleverer than I am, but Bolton School helped me achieve my potential.

So what has Bolton School meant to me? There is no doubt that from my family background, and at that time, had I not gone to Bolton School I would not be where I am today. School, and some of the staff particularly, gave me aspirations I would never have had. I also had chances to participate in many different activities such as choir, operas, sports teams and clubs, most of them entirely free, and this equips one with confidence and the ability to speak to anyone. Socially, I’m still shy, but School helped me develop strategies to overcome this and these have served me well. I met some very good friends at School and some others who were not so friendly: all of them taught me a lot. Overall, the School had a friendly and fun-loving atmosphere, despite the formidable Miss Higginson. My favourite memories are of Cautley and the sense of adventure of walking on the Howgill Fells. I revisit these often, though the attractions of walking up Cautley Spout are wearing thin with my husband as we get older. I still have my Third Form Cautley logbook which seems to survive my de-cluttering processes and I still look out for St Mark’s as we drive along the road.

To the Bolton School-girls of today I would say: take every opportunity School has to offer. Broaden your friendship groups; it’s so tempting to stay friends with those you knew from primary school or through your family, but there will be many friendships you will miss out on if you do and there will be many who would like to have been friends with you, but may have been too shy to say so. When choosing your career choose what you love, not what will make you the most money. Your whole life could be shaped by the decisions you make before you leave School. Challenge yourself, get out of your comfort zone – you can do much more than you think to make a difference to your life and other people’s.

My parents supported the Bolton School Bursary Fund when it first started as, though they didn’t have much money, this was something they believed in strongly. My husband and I, who were both ‘scholarship pupils’, feel the same, and support similar schemes at our children’s schools. The gift of education lasts for a lifetime, and at Bolton School you get education in the broadest sense, not just from academic work. I truly believe that most girls, despite the variable press that independent schools get nowadays, will use the knowledge, skills and values they acquire in a school like Bolton not just to help themselves, but for the greater good. Creating open access isn’t easy – there are problems reaching some prospective pupils who may not even apply, and once you get to School the expense of uniform and School trips also needs to be taken into account. However, the pleasure of seeing how children who have been given this opportunity blossom and give back what they have gained to the School and the broader community make the Bolton School 100 Campaign a goal well worth striving for.

Jill Clayton-Smith.jpg