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29 March 2021

The Monday Briefing: Girl

The Monday Briefing: Girl

A few weeks back, the Monday Briefing focused on boys, and the importance of encouraging ‘tender masculinity’ as a means of improving the development of conduct for young men in years to come. As a companion to that blog piece, and with it an acknowledgement that the status quo must be challenged, this article sets out to make a similar call to action from a different perspective: that of girls. With the advent of the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website and the identification of misogynistic behaviour widening across all aspects of education, this is, without doubt, a hugely pertinent matter.

As asserted in the briefing a fortnight ago, any signs of ‘toxic masculinity’ must be relentlessly challenged, but this alone will not be enough. Women face discrimination beyond such male behaviour. The gender gap is not a new concept, and the fact that the issue is acknowledged, and yet getting worse, should alarm everyone. In 2019, the UK dropped from 15th to 21st place in the global ranking of gender equality. While Britain ranked high on many metrics, coming out on top for equality in education and literacy, it placed 58th for economic gender gap because of the large disparity between men and women’s earnings. Dr Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said the UK was making only slow progress on gender equality, asserting then that “The thought that future generations will still be having the same dialogue as we’re having now is unacceptable.” 

Paradoxically, the gender gap for UK students has been set for years: girls get better GCSE and A level results than boys, in practically every subject, and women are much more likely to go to university than men. The 2019 GCSE results showed a 9.8% gender gap – with 71.7% of females achieving a grade 4/ C or above, compared to only 62.9% of males. In English in particular, girls do much better than boys – they outperform boys by around 16% for ‘good grades’ (7-9). Though the gap narrows at A Level, with only a 3.9% point gap in the A*-C achievement rate between girls and boys, 440,379 A-level entries were female in 2019 as opposed to 360,623 for males.

What about the impact of the pandemic?

A recent survey carried out by children’s charity Theirworld found that girls and young women aged between 14 and 24 are taking responsibility for the majority of household chores during the spells of lockdown, leaving them less time to focus on their education. Sixty-six percent of girls and women aged between 14 and 24 said they are spending more time cooking for their families as a result of the pandemic, compared with 31% of boys and men in the same age group. Women and girls are also spending more time cleaning (69%, compared with 58% of boys and men), shopping (52%, compared with 49%), and looking after siblings (28%, compared with 16%)

“There are reports that women’s equality could be pushed back by up to 10 years by the pandemic and this is a stark reminder that the fight for gender equality is ongoing,” said Sarah Brown, the chair of Theirworld.

“The findings from this study show that when girls are locked out of school they can easily become trapped in traditional household roles which can put their education in jeopardy,” she added.

The slow progress made seems hard won and easily lost. 

What of the sector, and the College itself?

Education is uniquely important in the search of gender equality - it is where norms of expectation are defined for all young women.

In secondary education as a whole, 63% of teaching staff in secondary schools are female, compared with only 38% of headteachers. At primary school level, men are present at senior level at a ratio of almost 2:1 of their representation overall – whilst just 14% of teaching staff are male, 27% of headteachers are. These statistics suggest that the students are sent a subliminal message from a very early age when they sit in lessons and walk the corridors of our schools: that the ultimate authority figures should be male; that there exists a ceiling which limits the potential of females; and traditional stereotypes of gender inequality are being renewed on a daily basis.

There may be many explanations for this, and none of them are acceptable: perhaps many sufficiently talented women are simply choosing to not pursue these roles through fear of being passed over or hitting a glass ceiling when they try to move up. Undoubtedly, some believe that there is still an inherent sexism in the system.

It is difficult to pinpoint a fully detailed way forward, but it is absolutely vital that female leadership on whole school initiatives is normalised, encouraged and celebrated. In terms of the College, I feel that we are moving in the right direction, and much of that is down to individual determination.

The appointment of Laura Bellerby as Vice Principal was one of my first actions after becoming appointed Principal in December, and I look back upon it as one of my best. Dedicated, conscientious and fully committed to her job, it is clear that all students fully respect her. They seek her out when they have issues or when in need of guidance for university applications. The arrival of Laura has brought much-needed balance to the leadership team. We work well together and discuss everything, from interviews for new students and staff to strategies needed to evoke positive and lasting change across the College. She never shirks responsibility and always puts students first. Perhaps most importantly, she shows confidence in her own ability, and inspires the female cohort never to drop their standards.

Laura’s emergence as an efficacious force has coincided with that of another: year 13 student Alexandra. Even before the summer, she was looking to push for constructive change and I was only too happy to encourage her activism. She petitioned me directly to embed a Charter against Racism in accordance with the Black Lives Matter movement. Any disrespectful language in the face of this document is challenged and sanctioned, and the College is better for it - tolerant and more considerate. She adorns an important position on the cards we send to our prospective students, voicing her gratitude for the beneficial impact which EIC has had on her life. She is the Leader of the industrious Student Council and founding Editor of the wonderful student magazine, Distinct. Not only is she a superb role model for her peers, but she is the only possible candidate which can be considered as my nomination for the Lexden Prize, a prestigious Independent Schools Association award for the ‘most remarkable sixth form student’ of the academic year. As well as being an excellent student, she embodies the idea of pushing boundaries to make positive change. As part of the award, Alexandra wrote a personal statement. It tells the story of someone who has overcome challenges both personal and societal, and someone dedicated to make the most of her education to become the very best version of herself which she can be.

Both Laura and Alexandra provide a vision, and visual proof, that female leadership is vital for the development of us all.

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