Skip to main content

Girls school

girls only schooling

The importance of a girls’ only education

By Education, Girls school, girls school
by Matthew Parry
Prep School Deputy Head, St Catherine’s Prep School

As a father of two girls of primary school age, I have a vested interest in the educational options available to them. That being said, I think I’m safe in saying that I am not your stereotypical advocate of girls’ only education. As the son of a coal miner and having been educated in co-ed state schools in south Wales, girls’ only education was something that didn’t enter my consciousness until I moved to Surrey in 2013. Whilst I was aware that many of the highest achieving schools in the area were single-sex, I didn’t really stop and think about the benefits of a girls’ only environment until I came to work in a girls’ only school myself.

The first thing that struck me when I began teaching a class made up entirely of girls was that roles within the classroom that were almost always filled by boys in a co-ed classroom (the joker, the loud child, the sporty child, etc.) were now occupied by girls. I know I never actively encouraged boys to occupy these roles in any of the classrooms that I taught, however, whether it be a result of unconscious bias or societal expectations, that was the classroom dynamic I was usually faced with. In a girls’ only environment, the girls were free of these expectations and could choose to occupy any role they wished without fear of judgement by others. This also extended to the academic subjects that they enjoyed and knowledge they pursued. Science, mathematics and PE were no longer ‘boys’ subjects’, they were just subjects that some of the class really, really enjoyed. At our school, 56% of girls took A Level maths in 2022, the most popular A Level subject option compared to 8.1% nationally.

The activities in the playground weren’t too dissimilar from those observed during my time teaching in co-ed schools, it was just that there were a dozen girls merrily kicking a football across the field together rather than a group made up primarily of boys.

It’s worth noting that the above observations are purely from my experiences and every school and child is different. But, and I think it’s an important but, when it became time for me to decide on my own daughters’ futures, I needed more than just my gut feeling to decide whether or not single-sex education was the right choice for them. Despite all the benefits I’d seen first-hand, I wanted it in black and white that girls’ only education was likely to be a good choice for them. It didn’t take long for me to discover a raft of literature that almost universally showed that girls in girls’ only education outperformed their peers in co-ed environments when all other factors (socioeconomic, geographical location, etc) were taken into account.

Not only that, they were also far more likely to pursue careers in areas that have been traditionally dominated by men. One study found that girls at single-sex schools were 85% more likely to take advanced mathematics than girls in co-ed schools, 79% more likely to study chemistry, 68% more likely to take intermediate mathematics, and 47% more likely to study physics. I have no particular dreams of my daughters pursuing studies in these areas, but I do feel strongly that they shouldn’t be impeded in any pursuit that they choose for themselves. The benefits of single-sex education for boys is a lot less clear and that may be a factor in why a large number of boys-only schools have chosen to become co-ed in recent years.

But what about the ‘real world’ where girls and boys have to coexist? Are girls at girls’ only schools at a disadvantage? I would argue that they’re not. Whilst they may not mix with boys on a daily basis, single-sex schools offer opportunities for girls and boys to learn together when and where appropriate – this may be in mixed teams at maths, science or chess competitions. Furthermore, they have more opportunities to take on leadership roles than their peers in co-ed settings.

I truly believe that a girls’ only education proves beneficial to the vast majority of the girls that come through our school-gates. However, every child is unique and as a parent it is important to consider the needs of your child. I asked both my daughters whether they wanted to attend a girls’ only school before enrolling them. My eldest had attended our local co-ed infant school whilst my youngest was in a co-ed nursery. Both were extremely eager to join a girls’ only school and are having a wonderful time. I believe that the absence of boys gives my girls space to develop a strong sense of themselves and their values without the pressure of gender stereotypes. Girls’ schools were established to try and offer girls the educational opportunities that had long been afforded to boys and I believe that they still have an important role to play in further enhancing opportunities for women today.

St Catherine’s Prep extend a warm welcome to parents who would like to see what this actually looks like here at St Catherine’s, Bramley with regular Open Mornings.

Milestone moments

By Education, Forest School, fun for children, Girls school, girls school, Playing, Relationships
by Naomi Bartholomew
Headmistress, St Catherine’s Prep School, Bramley, Surrey

Life at Prep School is full of firsts. The first time we do anything requires courage and determination which is why I so admire young children and so enjoy watching their early journey through school.

Before joining school, children will have already had many milestone moments – moving from cot to bed, their first steps, their first tooth and many more. The first day of school arrives all too quickly and from there a series of challenges and wonderful opportunities await.

Ahead of starting school encourage your child to engage in creative play. Allow them to solve some of their own problems – when they put their shoes on the wrong feet, pause and see if they can figure that out for themselves. Provide simple choices but limit them to two or three options – I often refer to this as the ‘carrot or peas’ approach. Rather than, “What would you like to eat?” which is a crazy question to ask a pre-school child, offer two alternatives. Give your child opportunities for play games which involve taking turns and sharing as well as dressing up and role-play. Encourage the use of full sentences when talking to your child. Avoid comments like, “Mummy wants you to come over and help” and start to use, “Please can you come and help me” and “Thank you”.

The first day of school is a major event but don’t overplay this. You will have spent considerable time and effort choosing the right school, trust your instincts and remain calm and positive. Allow plenty of time for the school run on the first morning and leave as quickly as you can once your child is in the classroom and starting to settle. Your child will spend the day learning names of the other children in the class, being shown their immediate environment and they will most likely come home exhausted but happy.

During the first term, establish a good rapport with your child’s teacher and encourage their early reading and writing at home as advised by the school. Ask what happens in the book that they are reading and help with extending their vocabulary to include words such as ‘first, second, finally.’ Don’t be scared to use the correct vocabulary – if your child can recite Hickory Dickory Dock they can learn the correct vocabulary and should be moving away from pet names for things.

You will hear about the first falling out between friends. If you have watched ‘The Secret Life of Four Year Olds,’ you will see these happen frequently and are as quickly resolved. There will be moments where your child’s effort and success is recognised and other moments when they feel overlooked or left out. They are still in egocentric infant mode and it is important to remember that you are hearing a four year old version of events.

The first nativity with lines to deliver, songs to sing and the chance to ‘perform’ in front of an audience. They are likely to be apprehensive especially post pandemic but also excited to show their newfound confidence. Your child will want to please you, please their teacher and be starting to want to please their peers by this stage. Frantic waving and trying to get their attention from your seat in the audience is adding pressure to an already fairly daunting experience for some. By all means wave on arrival and reassure your child that you are there but try to keep it discrete.

By the end of the first year your child will be very attached to their first teacher and the school will prepare them for moving on to a new class, possibly with new pupils arriving too which can change the dynamic amongst the class. Over the first long summer break encourage more constructive play which requires your child to build things, take things apart and put them back together. Go on walks, build dens in the garden, start to ride a bike. Check table manners and correct use of cutlery and ‘please and thank you’s.’ Use the days of the week more and continue with reading and basic writing.

Then come swimming lessons, possibly picking up an instrument for the first time, presenting in assembly and taking on minor roles of responsibility within the class (taking a message to the office or assisting with classroom chores). You will increasingly feel that you are not there for every milestone moment. This is important as your child will be forming a self-esteem based on their sense of their own achievements and by six we hope finding intrinsic motivation. They will be working out that effort impacts outcomes and they will be turning to peers to share their achievements. Winning the sack race, learning their times tables, holding the door open for a visitor, sharing their snack at break are all equally important.

Each of these little steps are in fact giant leaps. Here at St Catherine’s we aim to capture the magic as it happens and share it with you when we can. We ask the children to give everything a try and to step out of their comfort zone with as much confidence as possible. Learning at this age must be fun and curiosity must be fostered. Enjoy the milestone moments – they are to be cherished.

St Catherine’s is situated in the village of Bramley, four miles south of Guildford, which has fast train connections to London. Prep School girls benefit immeasurably from the world-class facilities of the Senior School, including the extensive grounds, 25m indoor pool, sports hall, dance studio, magnificent auditorium and 19th century chapel. Girls from age four engage in a full and varied curriculum which includes music, IT, ballet and sport delivered by dedicated specialist teachers. Our Patron, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, said on a recent visit, “You are all extremely lucky to be at such a wonderful school.”