Bolton School Former Pupils

Val Hanrahan

Val Hanrahan – Girls’ Division Staff, 1968-2014

Val Hanrahan was a much–loved member of staff, teaching Mathematics in the Girls’ Division from 1968 to 2014. She came to Bolton School from lecturing at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, and despite retiring once in 2002, she returned to continue teaching in the Girls’ Division until 2014. Below you can read Val’s memories of her time at Bolton School, taken from The Best of Both Worlds, followed by a brief pen portrait.


I first came to Bolton School as a mathematics teacher in 1968. I remember the austere atmosphere in the staff room – you’d never call the older staff by their Christian names, and woe betide you if you sat in their usual place.  Years after my Head of Department retired we still referred to ‘Miss Falla’s chair’!

I left to have my daughter in 1971 and returned to teaching in 1979.  After two terms in the Boys’ Division, I transferred to the Girls’ Division, where I remained until 2014.

I succeeded Margaret Dickinson as Head of Maths when Margaret took on responsibility for Careers and then the Deputy Headship.  In 1996 I became Head of the Sixth Form too, and helped prepare the timetable, all the while teaching a pretty full maths timetable

As Head of Sixth Form my responsibilities mainly covered pastoral matters, references and university applications.  I first retired in 2002, but agreed to return part time for a year to help induct my two successors – Mrs Kyle as Head of Maths, and Mrs McLellan as Head of Sixth Form.  Somehow or other that one year turned into twelve!

There was plenty going on out of School too.  For many years I ran the Girls’ Division end of the joint ski trip (one of the few combined activities at that time), smashing both my legs in the process and needing three operations to put them back together again.  Trips to Cautley were no rest cure for the staff involved either – you had to take everything with you, fire up the old-fashioned boiler, cook, clean, take the girls walking in the daytime and play games in the evening.  The brave and the foolish could go for weekends, and it didn’t do to take yourself too seriously – I remember one group of girls whose idea of Saturday night entertainment was to make me up as a goth, complete with tousled hair and black fingernails!  Thirty years on and despite everything I’m still friends with that group, and still involved with outdoor activities – I recently answered a plea to join a gardening work party at Patterdale and was the only member of the teaching staff there from either Division.

Another SOS email came at Easter 2013, when a group of silver Duke of Edinburgh Award girls needed a female to accompany them for a week on Tenacity.  I’d sailed competitively for over twenty years in the past and held a RYA Assistant Instructor rating, so was happy to climb aboard and it made for a very different relationship when I taught some of the girls maths the following year.  I also enjoyed flying and air rallying, and used to take staff colleagues for jaunts from Blackpool to the Lakes and the Isle of Man on our free afternoons – in the early days staff only worked a four and a half day week!

Relationships with Boys’ Division mellowed over the years.  When I first arrived the famous ‘three foot’ rule was still in place, which staff had to enforce when patrolling the grounds during the dinner hour.  In the 1980s girls would occasionally join the boys for subjects that we didn’t offer at that time, such as Statistics, and boys would come across for Cookery – a subject which has had many name changes over the years – or where there was a timetable clash.

When I first arrived Miss Falla would put the timetable together on a pinboard in the corner of the staffroom using coloured flags, treating it as one big logical puzzle – now, of course, it’s computerised, as is so much else.  In the 1960s Bolton had only one computer which was at the College – an old punched card variety!  Calculators arrived in the mid 1970s at a similar time to the change to decimalisation, so when I left to have Jeanette, g (the acceleration due to gravity) was 32ft/sec2 and when I returned it was 9.8m/s2 and all Mechanics question had to be re-written.  By the time I finally retired all my Year 12 students were working from iPads!

I don’t know if I’m the only member of staff to retire twice, but I definitely mean it this time.  Life is very full: I still write maths textbooks, and am currently involved in updating the A Level Pure Maths texts ready for the introduction of the new syllabuses in September 2016, I try to travel a lot, I’m a member of two golf clubs and play in all weather and I also help my daughter at our stables.  I feel that I am very lucky to be able to say that not only is Jeanette my daughter, she is also my best friend.  While in the Girls’ Division Jeanette’s two strengths were maths and show-jumping (not necessarily in that order!) and after completing a Maths degree she went on to combine the two in her professional life, teaching riding and competing successfully as a show-jumper around the UK, teaching and tutoring maths and running our livery yard.  We both agree that Bolton School has played a major part in our lives.


When, in which Division and what subject did you teach at Bolton School?

I taught Maths in the Girls’ Division from September 1968 to December 1971 then went on maternity leave.  I returned in 1979 and after two terms in the Boys’ Division I transferred to the Girls’ Division until July 2014.  I was Head of Maths and became Head of Sixth Form in 1996

What extra-curricular or other activities did you take part in as a teacher at Bolton School?

For 15 years I organised all the ski trips.  I also took my forms up to Cautley, where I cooked and cleaned and took the girls out on outdoor pursuits.

After the School sold Cautley, we went to Llangollen where we did rock climbing, abseiling, zip wires etc.  In 2013/14 I spent a week on the School’s ketch, Tenacity of Bolton.

What did you enjoy most about your role here?

The teaching and the kids!

What would you say is your fondest memory of your time here?

When I first retired, I read St Johns chapter 1 at the 2001 Ceremony of Carols – a privilege granted to the most senior retired member of staff.

How would you describe the ‘typical’ Bolton School girl in three words?

Well-organised, polite and smart.

What do you think is the most important thing that a Bolton School education gives to its pupils?

The confidence, discipline and ability to find their own path in the world

What do you think sets Bolton School apart from other Schools?

The inclusiveness of such a wide range pupils of different backgrounds and they’re all made to feel equal.  All gel with each other.

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

Bolton School offers a lot more than just education, so this is a brilliant opportunity!

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