In my first September assembly, I share my summer reading with our pupils. The summer break provides me with the chance to read, reflect and consider how the thoughts of leaders, educators and peers impact our school’s future strategy.
This year, I returned to my deputy head (teaching & learning), enthusing over a book she had excitedly recommended The Authority Gap by Mary Ann Sieghart. Having heard Sieghart speak at a conference, I was captivated by her research-based insights and her dedication to empowering girls to reach their potential. Sieghart delves into the ‘authority gap’, which highlights how women continue to face undermining and lack of recognition in public and professional spheres, often due to unconscious biases.
Sieghart’s research reveals unsettling findings, including a study from the US showing that boys in elementary and middle schools receive eight times more attention from teachers. Boys are rewarded for assertiveness, while girls are praised for being orderly and quiet. This pattern contributes to girls losing their voices, confidence and ambition.
Despite these challenges, Sieghart remains optimistic, advocating for greater representation and careful language use around young people to drive change. Her insights on the classroom reinforced my belief in the value of girls’ and single-sex education.
Parents often ask me about the benefits of girls’ education, a topic I discuss frequently. I share my classroom anecdotes, as well as statistics from the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA), of which we are a proud member. The GSA emphasizes that girls’ schools eliminate gender-biased expectations, allowing intellectual and physical confidence to flourish. Every girl can become a leader, develop resilience and build self-confidence, positioning them well for university, work and life.
Research, such as that by the Institute of Physics, shows that girls in girls’ schools are more likely to study subjects like physics and excel academically. For instance, in 2019, GSA students achieved over twice the national average of the top A-level grades.
I am a strong advocate for single-sex girls’ schools, which is why I’m deeply c o n cerned about the proposed 20% VAT increase on independent school fees by the Labour Party. This could force girls out of independent girls’ schools and into state co-educational environments, which may set back the feminist cause and exacerbate gender inequalities.
Independent schools, like ours, rely primarily on parental fees; since they are lacking the historic endowments that some boys’ schools enjoy. Manchester High was founded to provide for Manchester’s daughters what was long provided without stint for its sons, but girls’ schools like ours have fewer resources and often fewer established connections with alumnae.
While we are fortunate to have supportive alumnae, not all girls’ schools are in the same position. Over the last 150 years, brilliant women have emerged f rom Manchester High, making a signif icant impact in various fields. I worry that the proposed policy could hinder girls f rom reaching their true potential.
Helen Wright urges us to move past stereotypes of girls’ schools and recognize their positive impact. A walk through our school’s corridors reveals engaged, ambitious pupils who are excited about their future. My hope is that Manchester High School for Girls continues to thrive and offer opportunities to girls for the next 150 years and beyond. I also hope that all girls across the country can access schools that empower them to thrive.