Why girls play more sport at girls’ schools

As I was watching 25 St Swithun’s teams play another girls’ school on one of our Super Saturdays, I thought about why more girls seem to play sport in single-sex settings. I have to confess that I am speaking only from personal experience at St Swithun’s, but I think that many of my comments will apply to other schools.

A very large percentage of girls play sport from the day they start at St Swithun’s aged 11 to when they leave at 18. Although numbers drop off slightly as the girls go through the school, there are still far more girls taking part in regular activity than in many other schools or colleges.

Why is this? Here are my thoughts:

We have PE staff who are kind, enthusiastic and committed to finding a suitable sporting activity for every single pupil. It is not good enough to expect all girls to be passionate about netball for example so we offer 20 different sports.

We seek to lead by example ensuring that the pupils see members of staff playing sport such as setting off for a run at lunchtime or using the school swimming pool. Why does this matter? We want physical activity to be part of the normal routine.

We have sought to develop sports kit which is both fit for purpose and reasonably attractive. Nobody wants to play sport in unflattering or uncomfortable material. Our team shirts are a lively orange and navy – high profile and surprisingly cool – and we have branded sports bras.

Our match teas are unambiguously delicious, indeed famous throughout the south of England. We associate playing sport with having fun.

Sometimes girls want to play a sport but worry that boys will ridicule them and so they don’t take the first step. This seems particualrly to be the case with sports that are still more typically associated with boys such as football. Therefore, being a girls’ school removes a possible barrier to sport for those who lack confidence.

For those girls who worry about their appearance, who are not confident that they look attractive without make-up again, the absence of boys just simplifies things. They can be red-faced, sweaty and no-one cares.

We make sport compulsory even in the sixth form. Some girls complain, but if everyone plays sport, everyone plays sport. We have a virtuous circle.

We are open about the relationship between mental health and physical activity and many girls have told me how popping out for a bit of exercise re-energises them and helps them to put things in perspective.


Jane Gandee, Headmistress, St Swithun’s School

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