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Why Do We Still Need Girls’ Schools in the Twenty-first Century?

20 Sep 2022
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Carol Chandler-Thompson
Carol Chandler-Thompson

So often, arguments for single-sex education are framed in the context of single-sex vs co-education, as if one must be somehow superior to the other. This is completely reductive. One of the reasons why British schools have such a great reputation is due to the breadth of choice and expertise for families to choose from. Not only does this mean healthy competition between schools can breed innovation and collaboration benefitting students, but also that families can choose the school that best suits their child.

When thinking about the relevance and importance of girls’ schools for the twenty-first century, it must be thought about in the context of the needs of each individual child, and also in the light of the world into which young women will enter when leaving school.

Gender equality

In some ways, it is a more exciting time than ever to be a young girl or woman as society is striving to be more gender-blind. However, it is still far from gender-equal.

The gender pay gap persists; since 2018 when companies were required to publish gender pay inequalities, BBC analysis showed more than three-quarters of UK companies pay men more, on average, than women. The covid pandemic led to a ‘she-cession’ throughout Europe, as women’s recent advances were pulled back and they shouldered the majority of the unpaid and paid caring roles in the household and the economy.

Schools like St. George’s can offer a learning environment designed especially for the needs and preferences of girls, free from gender stereotyping and bursting with inspiring strong female role-models.

Girls do better in STEM subjects at all-girls schools

senior pupils in science

It is well-documented that girls do better academically in an all-girls school, and this is particularly the case in traditionally male-dominated STEM subjects. As well as producing excellent results, there is persuasive evidence that girls who attended girls’ schools are more positive and confident about their abilities in maths, computing, and sciences. This is cogently put by Dr Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, neuroscientist: “In our school, the assumption that science is for boys simply did not exist. Science and arts subjects were equally valued, and it was because of this that I chose a mixture of science and arts A-levels. This mixture has been a great benefit to me as a scientist because, as well as designing and carrying out experiments, science involves regularly having to read, evaluate and write papers.”

Every academic subject should be a girls’ subject

This does not mean that we think the sciences or maths are better or more important than languages, humanities, or the arts, but we do recognise that women are under-represented in these areas, and we do not believe in boys’ subjects or girls’ subjects – in a school like St George’s every subject is a girls’ subject.

Girls’ schools smash stereotypes

Recent research conducted in the UK revealed girls and young women are encountering gender stereotypes in all areas of their lives - online, on TV, in films, newspapers, from their peers, parents and teachers - causing them to change their behaviour because of the pressure they feel to be or act a certain way. If the positive images and role-models young girls see are female, this has an exceptionally powerfully effect on their thinking.

Girls’ schools increase girls’ opportunities with their ‘yes’ mindset

There is a myriad of other ways that girls’ schools embed an empowering ‘yes’ mindset. As Nina Gunson, Head of Sheffield High School for girls puts it: “In an all-girl environment, there are twice as many opportunities for girls- in leadership, drama, sports, music, public-speaking and more. Girls from as young as three, learn to be leaders at all-girls’ schools. Every leadership position is held by a girl. It is guaranteed that a girl will be the head student. She’ll be the sports captain too. The captain of the debate team- also a girl. Girls learn to find their voice and speak up – and they’re less worried about looking too stupid, or too smart.”

Girls’ schools nurture self-confidence through sport and activities

girl playing cricket

At St George’s, we place a premium upon providing a wealth of sporting and co-curricular opportunities for girls. At our school there is as much time and investment in cricket as there is netball. There is a culture where everyone is active and competitive in sport. Girls are mentored, trained, and coached by a female-dominated team of PE staff who act as positive role models. Several of our sports staff are elite sportswomen in their own right and play and compete out of school representing their country on numerous occasions.

Co-curricular activities deliberately help girls get out of their comfort zone in the company of their friends with chances to be adventurous and self-sufficient in activities like Duke of Edinburgh, Combined Cadet Force (CCF), or overseas exchange visits and expeditions.

All this helps develop a healthy self-confidence and assurance that stays with them as they become women. Given that recent attitude surveys demonstrate lack of confidence is a key factor holding women back, the importance of this is self-evident.

Girls’ schools encourage risk-taking

girl CCF

St George’s is also an environment where we highly prize our girls’ voices. Whereas there is lots of evidence that girls get less attention than boys in a mixed environment, in a girls’ school a risk-taking approach is nurtured and encouraged for every girl. Rather than taking on a supporting or moderating role in discussion, girls learn from an early age to make mistakes, ask a question without fear of looking daft and to disagree respectfully and assertively with others. Having the chance to build resilience and test oneself out from as young as three means these neural pathways are strongly engrained by the time the girls attend university and move into the world of work.

If we want our daughters to know their own minds, follow their passions (not the crowd) and be able to articulate their views; a girls-only school is a great environment in which to hone those attitudes and qualities. Not only that but they will have great fun, make life-long friends, and enjoy fantastic opportunities along the way.

To find out more about a St George's education, contact our admissions department.

Mrs Carol Chandler-Thompson

Head, St George's School, Edinburgh

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