You walk into a room of strangers. How do you feel? Do you stride in, smile generously and introduce yourself, or do you have to summon up courage, take a deep breath and do your best?
You are asked to stand at the front of a theatre and speak to a large audience of adults and multiple rows of your peers, perhaps in your professional role or at a large social gathering. Do you leap at the challenge, eager, positive and prepared, or do you hesitate, shudder and make your excuses?
How about standing under hot spotlights, with video cameras focusing on you, watched by a room full of people? Feeling uncomfortable yet? These scenarios would make many an adult turn on their heel and head for the hills, but not so for our students.
Over the past 10 days, our students – the youngest only 2 years old and the oldest 18 – have stood in front of video cameras, delivered their lines, played their roles, with a smile and an inner confidence that is humbling for the most confident of adults. They have been poised at the lectern at the front of the theatre, facing over one hundred students and over double that number of adults and their families – all of whom are strangers – and they have delivered personal, carefully crafted speeches, all their own work, with eloquence and aplomb. They have introduced themselves to visiting families, talked to children, their aunts, uncles and grandparents, and have expertly guided them around their school – navigating large groups of people, speaking to their teachers, describing their experience of the school, which for some has only been for one short month, with pride, honesty and enthusiasm.
This is what I have experienced of our students in my role in just recent days: a film shoot for our new brand film (we can’t wait to show you), pupils delivering talks to large groups of people in our welcome speeches and touring guests at our open morning last Saturday. These displays of confidence – quiet, unassuming and modest confidence – are witnessed every day in our school, from the student-led assembly, to the presentation to the class, from a tackle on the hockey pitch to speaking up and asking for help.
Confidence is part of The High School Approach – the ‘wheel’ – which outlines the intellectual characteristics we seek to develop at the High School. This confidence is part of our everyday ethos and community culture. We at Northampton High, in all our interactions in and outside the classroom, teach each girl the value of developing and living by her own definition of success.
Research conducted by the American Association of University Women found that girls in single-sex schools or classrooms reported higher levels of self-confidence and greater participation in class discussions than girls in coeducational settings. The Girls Futures Report* (based on UK research of a nationally representative sample of 1,358 girls in 2022) found GDST-schooled girls to be more confident, more self-assured, more empowered, better able to pursue their ambitions and feel unhindered by their gender.
Working with a specialist research agency, YouthSight, the GDST surveyed over 5000 young people between the ages of 9 and 18 including a nationally representative sample of girls from non-GDST schools, girls from GDST schools and boys at the ages of 9, 14 and 18. They also carried out in-depth interviews and focus groups with young people and consulted experts in educational psychology, careers and equality.
Compared to their peers in non-GDST (and mainly mixed-sex) schools, GDST girls report that they feel more confident, less restricted by gender stereotypes, happier to take on leadership positions and more comfortable taking risks, than girls elsewhere. Trends in confidence, positivity and ambition in students at GDST schools are also closer to those of a representative sample of boys in the UK than other girls across the country: from knowing what job they want, to feeling prepared for the future.
The report found that across age groups, 66% of GDST girls agree they are comfortable taking risks compared to 52% of non-GDST girls. Girls in GDST junior schools have strong self-confidence: only 5% of GDST girls feel negatively about the future compared to 20% of boys and 35% of non-GDST girls aged 9. And only 6% of GDST girls aged 9 say they avoid some activities because of their gender, compared to 37% of 9 year old girls and 31% of boys in the national samples.
Though confidence does dip in the middle secondary years, GDST girls have built a reservoir of resilience, and self-belief grows through the sixth form, in contrast to their peers – largely in mixed schools – whose confidence continues to fall. The research shows that it is wrong to assume that, because girls do not mix with boys in a school environment, that they will struggle to do so in the wider world. In fact, girls are given the freedom and facilities to gain a deeply seated confidence in girls-only schools. They are not held back by gender stereotypes or the pressures of conformity that are felt in mixed-sex classrooms. The confidence gained in a girls-only environment – through trying out leadership roles, working collaboratively and innovating with the freedom to fail – is taken into the wider world and applied to social interactions.
It is not only the GDST research that expounds the importance of confidence, particularly for girls, to succeed. Authors of The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know,** Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, have supported adult women to understand how to build their own confidence, but they frequently heard from women who wanted to know how they could help their younger and teen daughters. Kay and Shipman worked with a polling firm to learn more about the issue and were shocked to discover that girls’ confidence drops by 30% between the ages of 8 and 14. “Right until age 8, there’s really no difference [between girls and boys] in confidence levels,” Shipman says. “We were surprised at how quickly, how deep that drop is.”
There is much research out there on confidence and girls. One thing is for sure, we couldn’t be prouder of our students. They believe in themselves and we believe in them; it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Helping girls develop the self-assurance required for independent thought, our next generation of women will be equipped with the resilience to challenge, reshape and enrich our communities, the flexibility to navigate new paths, and the self-confidence to feel unashamedly empowered and fulfilled – the confidence our girls across the school demonstrate day after day – in the classroom, in leadership roles, in clubs and societies, in their discussions and relationships – will facilitate their success however they define it and in whichever direction they choose.
Director of Marketing & Admissions