Blogs and News - St George's School For Girls, Edinburgh
An opinion article written by Alex Hems, Head, featured in the Glasgow Herald April 12, 2019
Only recently a consultation on the future of the all-girls Notre Dame High School in Glasgow was announced and without wanting to pre-determine the outcome, it is clear that all-girls schools are falling out of favour – despite evidence of academic excellence.
As the Head of St George’s School in Edinburgh, Scotland’s largest all-through girls’ independent school, I am only too aware of the misconceptions around girls-only education.
However when the Duchess of Sussex recently came out heavily in favour of an all-girls education, declaring her own experience as “empowering”, I welcomed her contribution to the debate around all-girls education.
Without doubt, the topic of all-girls education can be divisive and for some, co-education is the answer. For others, an environment free from gender stereotypes allows them to explore opportunities that might otherwise be deemed “for boys”. In an all-girls environment this just isn’t the case. Our students go on to explore careers as wide-ranging as astrophysics, computer game design, theatre, medicine, engineering, teaching, law, publishing and academia and this is as it should be.
However, while important, academic performance is not the only measure of a good education. The change makers and innovators of the future who need to sell ideas, change minds, and move people to action need to first find their own voice and have the inner confidence that their opinion matters. This takes nurturing.
It is vital that the language we use to engage students is tailored to meet the needs and wants of young women. Girls tend to take their problems and failures personally and on the whole are much more self-critical. Being able to adapt teaching styles and provide an environment totally focused on girls’ needs can reap huge rewards. Ensuring young women are given the environment they need to thrive is important for future development.
Interestingly, this girl-centric approach is not only taking place in education, the field of sport is also very much championing a tailored approach for girls to encourage more female participation. British tennis coach Judy Murray has spoken passionately about the need for coaches to understand what makes girls tick and how communication must be female-appropriate in order to engage our next generation of sporting talent.
One of the biggest challenges facing women in the workplace is a crisis of confidence. This must be tackled if we are to see more women reaching their full potential. For girls in particular this is about building resilience, creating opportunities and providing access to inspiring role models whether that be their peers, teachers or external speakers.
All-girls schools provide a supportive environment in which pupils can work out what truly interests them, not just what they “should” study. This clearly opens up more career opportunities, and more importantly, gives them the confidence to be themselves, whatever that looks like.
Sadly, there is no disputing the fact that girls are facing social pressures like never before. It is our role as educators to provide a supportive learning environment, tailored to the specific needs of these young women so they are best equipped to deal with what the world throws at them.
I genuinely hope that Notre Dame High School remains an all-girls school. While not for everyone, single-sex schools encourage girls to speak up for what they believe in. Like the Duchess of Sussex, they do so eloquently and with a quiet confidence which is crucial in re-writing the norms and assumptions of our society.