Why girls only?

On 2 May, Northampton High School marked another significant milestone, celebrating 146 years of expertise in girls’ education. Reflecting on my own positive experiences of a girls-only, all-through education has only fuelled my passion and commitment to what I am continually doing at Northampton High School GDST. Here, we do more than education; we empower young women to tackle life’s challenges and break societal expectations. This article discusses why schools like ours are pivotal in nurturing capable, confident young women ready to create a more equitable world.

The benefits of an all girls’ education are manifold. A quick look at the toy and clothing industries, children’s literature and television shows reveals how deeply ingrained societal messages about gender roles are from an early age. These messages not only reinforce outdated gender norms, but also limit girls’ aspirations and reinforce stereotypes. For instance, many ostensibly female children’s clothes emphasise passive states rather than actions or achievements – being cute, being pretty, or being a princess.

Similarly, girls’ toys often align with this narrative, emphasising the cultivation of appearance through activities such as jewellery-making, hair-styling, make-up. Take, for instance, Lego Friends, marketed as a female version of Lego, perpetuates traditional gender roles despite the fact that girls don’t necessarily require a separate version to develop spatial awareness, as other traditional boys toys encourage. Arguably, the toy industries have become increasingly gendered over the past few decades and the reason is utterly cynical. The motive is to manipulate consumers into buying different toys for each gender, preventing them from recycling toys when they have children of the opposite sex.

However, girls and young women are not passive victims; we are agents of our destinies as much as men. We may not, as a general rule, be as physically strong, but we are every bit as brave. In essence, the imperative of championing the cause of girls’ only education looms larger than ever before.

In a girls’ only education setting, opportunities are limitless, with everything designed with girls in mind, including the classroom, curriculum and culture. Hence, it is no surprise that girls are more likely to take STEM A Levels, engage in sports like football and cricket, or participate in activities like debating club in an all girls’ school than in a co-ed. Girls have the space to be seen and the voice to be heard; they are inspired to think for themselves and enjoy and celebrate success, however they may define it.

There’s an inescapable truth: girls learn differently from boys and thrive in an environment specifically designed just for them. This is why I am a strong advocate for single sex education for girls; the unique learning styles and needs of girls warrant a tailored educational approach that fosters confidence, curiosity, collaboration and critical thinking. In such environments, girls are free from judgement and societal constraints, and they learn to tear up the rulebook on what they can and can’t achieve. A classroom devoid of gender-based expectations regarding academic strengths or weaknesses, and free from the fear of embarrassment or labelling, provides girls with the freedom to experiment, test their assumptions and confront their limitations – essentially, it allows them to truly learn.

It’s there in the research and evident in my daily observations at Northampton High. Our girls can try and fail without judgement, forge their own identities, assume leadership roles or support their peers, and build self-confidence, self-worth and self-knowledge. Our Sixth Formers take leadership roles as part of the Student Senior Leadership Team and Heads of House and deliver them in their way, be that collaboratively, authoritatively or creatively, influencing through teamwork, persuasion and co-operation. We are modelling the world we want to see. Moreover, we prepare them for a co-ed world by discussing and encouraging healthy relationships, exploring how a mortgage works and providing the emotional support they need to navigate life.

In today’s world, girls-only education is more important than ever. Girls learn best through discussion and exploration because more areas of their brain are dedicated to verbal functions, while a greater part of boys’ cerebral cortex is concerned with spatial and mechanical functioning, resulting in their shorter concentration spans than girls. In classrooms without boys, girls can flourish. They feel more free to pursue a wider range of subjects, to participate more actively in lessons, challenge others’ views, take leadership roles, work collaboratively and contribute meaningfully towards an equitable society.

We must continue to recognise and champion the importance of girls’ only education in shaping a brighter future for all. At Northampton High, we are proud to provide a diverse and inclusive community that empowers our girls to believe there is nothing they cannot achieve and that everything is possible.