A good time to be a girl – reflections on the GDST Annual Conference

19th June 2017

Having spent an inspirational few days at the GDST Annual Conference, I can say without doubt that the general consensus was that it IS a good time to be a girl. Sure there is still work to be done, barriers to be broken down, but with the help and influence of a GDST education, girls can and do, make their presence felt and make their successful way in the world.

This was evident in the number of GDST alumnae present and the successful positions they hold, including Oxford High School alumna, Cressida Dick CBE, who won the GDST Alumnae of the Year award. Not so long ago it would have been unthinkable to imagine a woman in such a high ranking position as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Force, yet here she is. At such a difficult and dangerous time in our society, it takes somebody with guts and confidence as well as empathy and compassion to take on such a responsibility. She truly is a figure for others to look up to.

Enjoying the privilege of listening to strong, influential women and great role models, I heard so many positive things at the conference and came away feeling unstoppable in my position as Head of Nottingham Girls’ High School, and proud to think that I can help to contribute to the empowerment of girls and women. Fellow Heads from our sister schools had some great advice, as did Cheryl Giovannoni, CEO of the Girls’ Day School Trust. She dispelled the myth that girls should be wrapped in cotton wool to protect them from the scary, big world, because that’s where they’re going to end up anyway and they need to be prepared, and to be able to look after themselves. Parents often treat their daughters differently from their sons, overprotecting them and overlooking the feisty nature for which they should be given more credit, and this does them no favours in the future.

It was also pointed out that the advent of social media and technology, often seen as detrimental in its hyper-sexualised portrayal of girls and young women, could work in their favour too. Girls are getting techno savvy and using social media platforms to organise events, protests and petitions to make their voices heard. Technology is the present and the future, and we need to encourage girls to embrace it and claim their places in its industry.

So many relevant issues were covered at the conference, so many things that really clicked with me. From the gendering of pink and blue products, advocating the ‘princess and hero’ culture for children which only reinforces stereotyping at an incredibly early age, to the issues of confidence in the workplace, encouraging women to put their hands up and be heard; all of these are things that matter and things that we can work on here at school. Of course, none of this is possible if our girls (and staff) are not in a good place mentally and emotionally, as well as physically, and we had a brilliant talk from Dr Brian Marien of the ‘Positive’ group with whom we are working closely on the subject of wellbeing at school.

All in all, it was a fantastic conference from which I came away energised. It highlighted all of the issues that can, and do, affect the success of girls from their earliest years right through to their career prospects, working lives and even beyond. There is so much that we can do here at school, and we aim to redress any gender imbalance right from the very start. Without boys present in the classroom, there can be no such disparity to begin with – this is what makes a girls only education so great. Acknowledging that girls can be ‘feisty’ and recognising this as a strength as opposed to an obstacle, letting them enjoy the rough and tumble nature of childhood and growing up – this is great advice. And then when they’re older, offering them advice on how to handle the realities of the world instead of trying to shield them from it, this is what we need to be doing.

There are more and more strong and successful women emerging in society, in the workplace, in the news and the media – the signs are encouraging, but we mustn’t rest on our laurels. There is still a lot of work to be done but this is what we do. As one of my colleagues said at the conference: “We know how girls learn, what they need to thrive. That’s our business, the business of teaching girls to be the very best they can be.” I heartily echo that, and am confident in saying that yes, this IS a good time to be a girl, and we can make it even better.

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