The GDST’s Chief Executive, Cheryl Giovannoni, talks about creating an environment that is designed with a girl in mind.
On 10 November, Cheryl Giovannoni spoke at the Independent Schools Show about why girls’ schools are better for girls. Here’s what she said.
Let me start with a small caveat. A good school is a good school. There are good co-ed schools and good single-sex schools. You can also find not-so-good co-ed schools and not-so-good single-sex schools. All schools are different, and some schools will be a better fit for your child than others – you know your child best.
With that upfront, I’m going to tell you why I believe girls’ schools are better for girls.
It’s well documented that girls do better academically in an all-girls school. Indeed, this year, one of our schools, Oxford High School, had the best A Level results of any girls’ school in the country.
So, if you want top notch academic results, then sending your daughter to a girls’ school makes sense.
But you know and I know that there’s so much more to a great education than just exam results.
So how else do girls’ schools give their pupils an edge?
Firstly, there’s less gender stereotyping at single-sex schools.
There are no boys’ subjects or girls’ subjects because every subject is a girls’ subject. This means girls are far more likely to opt for science and maths – at A Level, the proportion of GDST students taking science, technology, engineering and maths – also known as STEM subjects – is significantly higher than the figures for girls nationally. In 2019, half of our A Level students took one or more of the sciences, compared to just over one in five nationally, and 40% studied maths.
But if your daughter loves art or drama she won’t be pigeonholed either or labelled as only doing ‘girly’ subjects.
This can also lead on to women who went to girls’ schools being more successful in the job market and earning more in later life, as they are more likely to work in male-dominated and better paid industries. We have plenty of research that backs this up.
Secondly, there are twice as many opportunities for girls – in leadership, drama, sports, music, public speaking and more.
It’s guaranteed that a girl will be the head student or prefect;
She’ll be the sports captain too;
She plays the flute and she plucks the harp and she bangs the drums;
She plays Juliet and Romeo, Cleopatra and Anthony, she can play Hamlet and Henry V and Prospero too;
She is an actor and not just a re-actor;
And she never, ever plays second fiddle to the first 15 – heck, she is on the first 15.
Girls learn to be leaders at all-girls schools. Every student leadership position isn’t just open to every girl; it is held by a girl. The head girl and the prefects – all girls. The captain of the debating team – a girl. Director of the school play – a girl. Club leaders – all girls.
They learn to find their voice and speak up – and they’re less worried about looking either too stupid or too smart.
In sports, there’s as much space and time and investment in netball as in rugby, in hockey as in football, in rounders as in cricket. The fastest growing sports in our schools happen to be football, rowing and cricket currently.
Girls enjoy sport and exercise more, and are more likely to stick with it in a single-sex environment as teenagers. They get sweaty and red in the face and they don’t care as much.
All this helps develop a self-confidence that stays with them throughout their lives. There is research currently that shows girls’ confidence starts to decline at the age of 8, and it only improves from the age of 80. Girlguiding’s annual girls’ attitudes survey shows that one of the big reasons girls are put off being leaders is because they don’t always feel they have the confidence. Girls’ schools instil in them the confidence they need for a successful future.
What better reason for girls’ schools to thrive?
Thirdly, there’s lots of evidence that, in a mixed environment, girls get less ‘airtime’ than boys.
Even in a class that is a 50:50 split between boys and girls, boys get far more than 50% of the teacher time and attention, they interrupt more, they ask more questions, they get more help. In mixed settings, girls are generally expected to be a civilising influence on boys. And we all know that boys’ schools that take girls in their Sixth Forms are not usually doing it to give those girls the best possible girl-friendly education.
What’s in it for the girls? What does it teach them? I don’t think that educating girls to believe that they are responsible for anyone else’s behaviour is in their long-term interests.
Finally, and most importantly, a girl’s years at a girls’ school may be the only time in her life that she will be in an environment that is designed with her in mind, with people that put her at the centre of all they do.
The world, as we know, was not designed by women and it wasn’t designed for women.
But girls’ schools are.
It’s not just about the learning environment – although that matters hugely, too. It’s more about how teachers in GDST schools are experts in teaching in ways that help girls learn better.
A girl is free to be herself – to be ambitious, to be competitive, to be creative, to be a girly swot, or a geek, or a clown.
The most important thing that a great education can give a girl is the ability to be her own agent of change. Education gives you control over your own future. It is quite simply that powerful.
We talk about GDST schools being places where girls learn without limits, so that when they leave us they have the confidence and the wherewithal to lead lives without limits.
I firmly believe that girls’ education has never been more important because it has purpose and purchase in a world that can only benefit from the contribution these girls will make to a better future.
With all this in mind, the question isn’t, why should you send your daughter to a girls’ school, the question is, why wouldn’t you?