Leading professional women react to comments by Brighton College head Richard Cairns

Top girls’ schools and their pupils have hit back at comments by Brighton College head Richard Cairns that pupils at single-sex schools “don’t learn to talk to boys”.

Jennifer Smith, head of Brighton and Hove High School, said: “Mr Cairns’s rather out-of-touch portrayal of women who are educated at single-sex schools, with its heavy reliance on all the old gender stereotypes, bears no resemblance to the pupils who attend our school, nor to our highly successful and socially-articulate alumnae – none of whom ever strike me as being ‘disadvantaged’ by not having had boys to ‘converse’ with in their physics lessons.”

Head of Burgess Hill GirlsKathryn Bell added: “In an all girls environment, everyone is valued as an individual with their own gifts and talents, each and every girl is known for who she is and all are free to be true to themselves.”

 

In an article in The Argus 6 January 2016, four leading professional women give their views

Runner-up of television show The Apprentice, Bianca Miller went to the all girls’ Sydenham High School GDST, before studying business at the University of Sussex.

After battling the boys including Lord Alan Sugar in the boardroom she is running her successful hosiery company and does not agree that her single sex education has held her back.

The 27-year-old businesswoman said: “I think it is wrong to say women can’t adapt to situations where there are boys.

“I’ve never found I have any difficulty in speaking to a man and holding my own. There weren’t any boys in the classroom but it’s not just about the classroom it is about family and other interactions. Boys were just one of those things that weren’t in school and I think most of my friends would agree they were able to adapt.  At school there were girls and work and outside school there were boys in your family and friendship groups.  It isn’t like being in a bubble or locked in a convent.

“At school nothing was impossible, we did football and rugby and there wasn’t any restriction on what we could do.”

Dr Frances Saunders was a pupil at Portsmouth High School in the 70s and went on to have a successful career in science and engineering and ended up as chief Executive of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, has just finished her term as president of the Institute of Physics and is a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

She said: “An education at a girls’ school certainly was not a disadvantage in my case.

“I had always had boys in my social circle even though I went to a single sex school.  Even in those days there were plenty of opportunities to do things outside school hours that brought you into contact with boys – such as science clubs, choirs, drama clubs and debating societies etc.  I believe this is even more the case now, so girls who attend single sex girls schools are far from being closeted from contact with boys. I never had problems communicating with male colleagues, even when I was starting out.

“I have rarely found that being female was an obstacle. Indeed sometimes being the only woman in a project or in meeting means that you stand out from the crowd and are therefore remembered by colleagues. The young women coming from the sector are certainly not old fashioned.  There is evidence from research done by the Institute of Physics that some co-ed schools can re-enforce gender stereotypes in an unhelpful way so that girls tend not to study physics and maths beyond age 16 and, conversely, boys are not encouraged into arts subjects. “

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