In a bespoke event dedicated to exploring girls’ education, Shrewsbury High School Head Darren Payne, Head of Juniors Kate Millichamp and Dr Kevin Stannard, the Director of Innovation and Learning at the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST), explored the differences that a girls-first ecosystem can make to girls’ confidence, careers, and skills and how a girls-only approach in schools that are designed solely with them in mind can help a girl thrive.

Dr Stannard referenced the themes and explored the data trends of the landmark national research, The Girls’ Futures Report, which surveyed girls aged 9-18 from across England and Wales on how they see their futures, how they feel about the world and what they need education to deliver.  The overarching findings that the research concluded was that pupils who attend all-girls schools, and particularly GDST schools, are more confident about their future and feel more prepared to lead lives without limits than girls at other schools across the UK.

The qualitative research in The Girls’ Futures Report reflects the student voice at all stages of an educational journey and the data highlights the lived and experienced benefits of a girls-only tuition throughout Junior School, Senior School and Sixth Form.  The report highlights how GDST Junior Schools build up the reservoir of resilience that is needed when girls move through the teenage years, which is important, as choices, dispositions and behaviours have already been formed by the end of year 6.  For example, at age 9, two thirds of girls give up physical activity and 37% of girls avoid some activities because of their gender.  This compares to only 6% of GDST girls who would avoid hobbies, activities and subjects on account of gender. They are also far more comfortable taking risks and are more positive about the future.

Speaking on the impact of the wider world on girls’ education, Dr Stannard emphasised the importance of designing a system that supports young women and ensures equality of opportunity. In the GDST’s report, he states, “‘Girls’ lived experiences are different from boys’. As girls develop into women, they face discrete societal expectations and life choices that will inevitably have an impact on the paths they take. This is a fact, borne out by the voices in this survey, and it needs to be explicitly implemented and reflected in certain areas of girls’ education and learning design.” Darren Payne and Kate Millichamp elaborated on the school’s bespoke and pioneering approach including the life skills and enrichment programme Period X and the Junior School’s Speak Up initiative.

Dr Stannard also rejects common arguments put forward by co-ed schools “Some proponents of coeducational schooling have argued that schools should reflect society in their gender composition. But schools should be set up to challenge, not simply to reflect and reinforce, the gender asymmetries that still pervade the wider world. Single-sex education serves a subversive purpose: GDST schools seek to challenge traditional gender stereotypes, give girls space to develop a strong sense of themselves and their value, and nurture the confidence to make their own choices, free of any sense that the script has been written for them. As day schools, they offer a girls-only space to complement the rest of a girl’s life-world – which by all accounts does not exclude boys”.

In the words of one year 12 GDST student, “The lasting legacy for me of having attended a girls’ school is a sense of community and confidence in how powerful and caring a group of girls can be without the fear of judgement.”

Read the Girls’ Futures Report at https://www.gdst.net/education/the-girls-futures-report/