“Girls’ schools are producing pupils who aim for the sky”

Bernice McCabe, Headmistress of North London Collegiate School writes in The Telegraph 20 January 2017 :

Secondary school league tables, published this week, show that single sex girls schools, both independent and state, are vastly over-represented in the upper ranks.

In the same week, an analysis of the 2015 results by the education website SchoolDash revealed that three quarters of pupils at mainstream girls schools achieved five good GCSEs including English and maths, compared with 55 percent at mixed schools.

But superior exam results are not the only reason students from single sex schools are winning places at top universities and going on to succeed in their chosen careers.

According to the head of admissions at a prestigious American Ivy League institution, girls schools not only lay the foundation for university life – they give students the confidence to put themselves forward and aim for the top.

Dean Janet Lavin Rapelye, from Princeton University, New Jersey, has highlighted the distinct advantage single sex schools give to their pupils.

On a visit to North London Collegiate School recently, she said that because students coming from all-girls environments were either in leadership roles or used to seeing their friends in them, their expectations were raised about the roles they would play on campus and that was “a very good thing”.

In single sex schools, “every job goes to a girl”, giving pupils generally the belief that they too can take the helm. Dean Rapelye went on to say that although co-educational schools can do the same, there was “something very positive about the all-girls environment”.

Such a vote of confidence from the Dean, who has a unique insight into the kind of young person that leading universities are seeking, is very welcome and will hopefully lay to rest the laughable claims made last year that students from girls schools might struggle in later life because they can’t communicate with their male peers.

Girls’ schools have produced countless examples of individuals who have achieved success in every walk of life: from leading businesswomen, to award winning writers, to pioneering engineers, doctors and scientists. The first female Prime Minister of the UK attended an all-girls school, as did the current female prime minister for most of her secondary education. So did the first female Master of the Queen’s Music and the first female president of the Institute of Physics. Further afield, the first woman to become US secretary of state attended an all-girls school.

Academics at London’s Institute of Education who tracked 13,000 Britons over 40 years to determine whether single-sex schooling influenced their later life found that far from being a disadvantage, single-sex schooling improved girls’ chances of landing well-paid careers. Women who attended all-girls schools earned up to 10 percent more than those sent to mixed schools.

At single sex schools, there is no such thing as a “boys’ subject”. By contrast, a review of international research by the Economic and Social Research Institute found that attitudes to subject areas become more gender-stereotyped in coeducational settings.

Physics, chemistry and mathematics in particular tend to suffer from a lower uptake by girls in mixed schools because of this misconception that these subjects are somehow more ‘male’. At single-sex schools, no such misconception exists and take up is healthy, with good numbers of girls going on to excel in all these subjects, often spring-boarding into medicine or engineering as a result.

But as I said earlier, education is not just about exam results, it is about providing an environment in which pupils can thrive, build resilience and confidence, find out what inspires them and pursue it with enthusiasm.

The pursuit of a rich academic diet must run in tandem with finding out what makes each girl tick. Good schools put students in charge of their destiny by getting them involved in a range of different activities. At the last count, there were about 50 different societies here, many producing their own magazines. Girls are busy organising, doing and writing about sport, politics and economics, fashion and poetry, to mention a few.

It is these leadership roles that help students to stand out from the crowd when university admissions tutors and employers are sifting through thousands of applications.

Parents want their daughters to view maths and science as a credible option, they want the kind of nurturing environment that girls’ schools can foster and they don’t want to feel that their children are growing up too soon in an environment where there is competition for the attention of the opposite sex.

They also want an environment where their daughters are encourages to take responsibility, and as Dean Rapelye has pointed out, in this respect, girls schools are second to none.

 

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