Recent headlines in the press reported some surprising statistics following surveys undertaken by Professor Jonathan Black at Oxford University. Over half of boys (56%) and three-quarters of girls (75%) think men receive higher pay in their jobs after university. On a scale of one to six (with six being most confident), girls rated their job prospects after university as 3.7, while the figure for boys was higher at 4.3. Why, despite all the progress that has been made in achieving relative equality for women in the last century, do girls continue to talk down their own prospects and talents?
Research suggests there are a number of reasons underlying this perception. Reasons include: the influence of outdated but influential gender stereotypes; an absence of powerful female role models; unconscious messages absorbed by girls that being ambitious or ‘pushy’ is unattractive and the view that bringing up a family and career success are incompatible, amongst others. Is education failing our girls by allowing them to leave school with attitudes that undermine their confidence from the outset? It is certainly a key issue that educational leaders need to engage with if they are truly educating their students, and specifically their girls, for life as opposed to simply passing examinations.
At Blackheath High School, I am confident that our graduating Sixth Formers would not reflect this national trend. A specialised education for girls, honed over the last 135 years, ensures that the education we offer sets them up for their future with an inner confidence based on self-belief and awareness of their own strengths and talents and individuals, as opposed to a shallow or superficial self-image based on comparison to others or gender stereotype. How do we do this?
We are incredibly fortunate to belong to one of the most powerful organisations in UK girls’ education: the Girls’ Day School Trust. A network of 24 schools and 67,000 alumnae means there are no shortage of inspiring role models and mentors in every conceivable profession and avenue of life. At Blackheath, girls are the leaders – head of school, captain of games, leader of the debating society. They find their voices, and get used to the challenges of leadership. Our curriculum and co-curriculum is imaginatively designed to provide a plethora of opportunities to take intellectual risks, ask questions, or make judgements in every area. A sixth-form girl might begin the day presenting an assembly on the English Journal she has co-authored, spend her lunchtime co-ordinating a problem-solving maths club for younger students and complete her day in introducing a visiting speaker to an audience of staff and students. All this, sits alongside an inspiring and engaging timetable of lessons and enrichment activities. It is this rich diet of challenge and opportunity that enables our girls to try themselves out, learn from their experiences and understand their strengths, unconstrained by gender stereotypes.
It is highly intentional on our part that these personal development opportunities will enable our girls to grow into capable and confident young women, equipped to deal with the challenges they may face in their higher education and careers, and with all the self-belief they may require to succeed.
Mrs Carol Chandler-Thompson, Head