December 13

Forging the future for girls

It did my ego no good to be asked by a Year 6 pupil if I was one of the crinoline-wearing teachers featured in a photograph of our school and staff from the 1880s. Once my composure was restored and a detention given, I did reflect that the remark could be construed as a compliment; they were a formidable group of women who established the GDST and taught in the first girls’ schools. Pioneers in girls’ education, suffragists and suffragettes were amongst them. 

150 years on, one might wonder whether single-sex education has had its day, but two events at school and a couple of unexpected conversations brought the reality of the value of what we do into sharp focus this term. 

“The Power of Girls” event last month led by Dr Kevin Stannard, GDST’s Director of Education and Innovation, centred on The Girls Futures Report examining the difference between attitudes of girls in GDST schools, girls in other schools and boys. The evidence demonstrated that our girls were leaving school more prepared to face the future, with confidence to take the lead and passionate about pursuing leadership options. There were quite incredible differences in attitude at the age of just nine years, with our girls not seeing subjects in a gender confined way and expressing confidence and positivity about their futures. 

November also saw the webinar ‘Understanding Girls’ where Dr Tara Porter, a Clinical Psychologist, discussed the different emotional responses which can exist for girls and the different challenges. The 'Understanding Girls' webinar is still available on Tooled Up Education, do take a listen.

What both events had in common was that girls need a curriculum and pastoral care that works for them. To imagine that co-ed means gender equal is simply wrong, and this was reinforced to me by two recent conversations. 

In one, a teacher who joined us from a co-ed primary, was astonished by staff training dedicated to raising our girls’ attainment in literacy. Until joining us, every professional development input she had received had focused on finding ways to make boys engage in reading. In another conversation, a prospective parent, a teacher in a Senior co-ed school, bemoaned the fact that they were constantly being told to find ways to engage disinterested boys in their learning while a fraction of that time spent on an A-grade female student could realistically propel her to an A*. 

November 22nd this year was Equal Pay Day. Sadly, not a celebration of equality but the point at which, because of the gender pay gap, women overall in the UK stopped being paid compared to men (that is to say, based on average earnings, women are then working for free until the end of the year). So not a level playing field still. We, as educators, have a duty to support our girls and equip them to bring about a change. The GDST has committed to developing practical skills beyond the curriculum and helping girls develop more experience of work environments. Blackheath High is completely behind this approach. At Junior School, Ms Nolan, Head of Junior Maths, led a special assembly on Financial Education and this area will be woven into the curriculum as the year goes on. We are planning a Junior Careers Fair for the summer term, working with Cath Day, our Senior School Head of Juniors, to show our girls the wide range of roles that could be open to them and the attributes they will need.

With opportunities that fully focus on what girls need and how they learn, we hope our girls will have the futures they want and deserve. (And I was joking about the detention!). 

Written by Mrs Sarah Skevington, Head of Junior School 

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