Tomorrow’s education today

Our Chief Executive, Cheryl Giovannoni, on how GDST schools are reshaping the future of learning

girls education


The famous directive from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on how to drive innovation and change was “to move fast and break things”. As a rule, education isn’t given to such disruption. But Covid-19 gave us no choice.

Lockdown forced us to think fast about what a good education could be. Our answer was Guided Home Learning, a whole new way of teaching. Liberated from the confines of the classroom, this ambitious programme was a golden opportunity to live our values, to be fearless and forward-thinking, to put girls first in everything we do.

“Our use of education technology took a giant leap forwards, necessity accelerating rapid change that might otherwise take decades.”

Our use of education technology took a giant leap forwards, necessity accelerating rapid change that might otherwise take decades. We led the way with Guided Home Learning, rethinking the boundary between formal and informal learning. Teachers guided students every step of the way; most students learned their usual subjects with familiar staff. Our students enjoyed a mixture of “live” teaching, teacher-led lessons and tutorial activities, independent research and study, creative experiments, physical and sporting challenges and pastoral care. Pupil wellbeing was paramount, and their mental health prioritised. Students were stretched academically and supported emotionally.

And they still had fun together.

Art, drama and music moved online. Lockdown saw an outpouring of collaboration and creativity from our schools, typified by the GDST Song Contest. Nottingham Girls’ High Junior School’s music department was so prolific it released a 23-track charity album of their lockdown songs.

EdTech widened our reach. A teacher in one location could work with students in any number of places. Most importantly pupils could work together, becoming active creators rather than simply passive consumers.

Last year we were thrilled when more than 600 students filled Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium for Norwich High School’s Inspiring Females Summit. This year, 30,000 students, from the GDST and beyond, logged onto the event online.

We are reaching more parents, too. The Positive Project initiative provided support for students and parents, and 350 parents signed up for an online webinar by the Rap Project – Digital Natives: A Parent’s Guide – at the end of last term.

“As we now enter a new phase, with schools again open to all pupils, we want to reshape education itself.”

The cancellation of public exams was a huge challenge but also an opportunity. Our mission is for our schools to be places where girls learn without limits – and Limitless Learning, our enrichment programmes for Year 11 and Year 13, was just that. Learning unleashed from the constraints of public exams and the inflexibility of the syllabus. We used the time and space to tear up the rulebook and redefine learning with design thinking modules and a TED-Ed Talks course.

Our network is our superpower. We are a family of 25 schools with 19,000 students and an alumnae network of over 70,000 passionate and engaged women who want to raise each other up. Our teachers designed a wide range of courses that our alumnae helped deliver. Featuring successful women from a range of professional backgrounds, our careers-focused modules such as Real Models and CareerStart live, inspired students to be “real-world ready”.

As we now enter a new phase, with schools again open to all pupils, we want to reshape education itself. We are already remodelling the physical classroom with innovative developments such as the STEAM Tower at Wimbledon High School and the Design Hub at Brighton Girls. We want to transform the timetable too, encouraging pupils to be more autonomous. And in the light of the Black Lives Matter movement, we are committed to reviewing the curriculum, ensuring it is more diverse and inclusive for all.

Collaboration is key, and we are looking at opportunities to teach some specific subjects across the GDST. If your daughter was previously unable to take a particular, specialist A Level, for example, one teacher could potentially educate students online across our schools. This is truly learning unleashed.

“Collaboration is key.”

There is also immense potential for parents to be more involved in their children’s education and for schools to keep in touch with parents more easily.

We have seen a brave new world where EdTech and a spirit of collaborative can-do mean learning can be better than ever.

And we’re grabbing that opportunity with both hands.

This article was first published in The Week Independent Schools Guide Autumn/Winter 2020