The Role of Girls’ Schools

The Role of Girls’ Schools

Published in the Times of Tunbridge Wells, January 2016

The new term started with the Headmaster of Brighton College triggering controversy by claiming that girls were at a disadvantage if they were educated at a single-sex school.

His argument is that if girls attend girls’ schools they do not mix with boys, so when they enter the workplace they struggle to converse and communicate with men. I welcome the debate that these comments have prompted.

The truth is that, at Benenden - and all other girls’ schools I know of - we see mixing with boys as incredibly important for our students, and indeed a vital part of the Complete Education they receive. Each of our Houses is twinned with a House at Tonbridge School - a boys’ school - for social and training events. We are proud participants in the Model United Nations programme, which encourages teamwork and debating with students from a range of schools from across the country. We run a Combined Cadet Force, in partnership with co-educational state school the John Wallis Academy. We regularly hold multi-school events here, most recently the Chemistry at Work Day in December when 400 girls and boys from across Kent took part in workshops and experiments. There are many, many other examples.

I have worked in girls’ schools, boys’ schools and co-educational schools and there are persuasive arguments for all three models. There is no right model of school, but there is a right school for your child.

Parents and children should choose a school based on the atmosphere, real values and whether it is a good fit for your child, regardless of its gender policy and indeed regardless of its league table position, facilities or whatever other trimmings can detract from the true values of a school.

One of the benefits I have seen for girls in a single-sex environment is that they have the space to have a go at things, without worrying about how they may be seen by the opposite sex. They are not so image conscious and there is far less pressure to grow up too quickly. They can be themselves.

We live in a society where the most senior positions in the workplace continue to be male-dominated. There is still a 19.3% pay margin between the sexes and only 30% of MPs are women. There is an imbalance when it comes to female representatives at the top table. In a single-sex school environment, girls gain the experience and confidence that comes with holding positions of responsibility. They become used to seeing females as leaders, and carry this expectation into the workplace. This in turn is helping to evolve the culture within businesses. The situation continues to improve but we are still some Headmistrees, Samantha Pricedecades away from gender parity in the boardroom.

Men and women need to work together to redress the balance and Heads of all schools should be supporting one another to do this.

Samantha Price
Headmistress, Benenden School