I have always challenged those that suggest single sex education restricts girls’ opportunities because they don’t interact with boys. As an experienced teacher in a single sex environment I have seen countless examples where it is just this lack of boys in the classroom that enables girls to open their minds and doors to paths less travelled.
In an all girls’ environment, there are no gender stereotypes. Girls simply choose subjects that inspire and motivate them. This means many of our girls embrace the subjects traditionally seen as male and take up the rich provisions these subjects provide. I think those who believe that girls miss out because they don’t interact with boys in the classroom misunderstand what the true benefit is for those girls and ultimately our society. I would certainly have loved those doubters to accompany me over the last few weeks to see our girls shine in areas still dominated by men.
The Engineering Development Trust runs a national competition promoting engineering opportunities. The competition requires the contestants to devise an engineering project that is environmentally sustainable. This year we entered a team of eight Year 8 girls. The girls excelled in their design of an underground classroom and indeed their design so impressed the judges that they won the competition. But what struck me most was the lack of female representation in the competition – 50 people took part, 36 were boys and of the fourteen girls, eight were from Bedford Girls’ School. If it were not for us taking part, it would have been an even more male dominated competition in an industry that is doing its best to welcome women.
As a direct result of the experience the girls had, at least four of them are now considering engineering as a career. Challenged by the project they had undertaken, it opened their eyes to exciting possibilities of a career in this continually expanding area.
On a typically windy Sunday at the Bedford Autodrome our girls took part in the Schools’ Grand Prix challenge where they raced the two battery charged cars they had designed and built around the track. Once again the event was dominated by teams of boys. The girls were mainly noticeable by their absence. At BGS any girl can take part in this scheme, roles are not seen as being male only. Our girls had worked hard over the last few months and produced cars that rivalled the others, coming fifth overall and perhaps most importantly for those budding engineers, winning the category of most reliable car.
Ken Baker, former Education secretary, said recently that the future lies in the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).These are the areas that graduates are easily finding jobs in and these jobs are challenging and exciting. A school like ours, free from gender stereotypes, has always encouraged the study of STEM subjects and it is not surprising that many of our alumnae are making huge advances in these areas. For those looking to increase opportunities for women, I would argue that the role of single sex education cannot be ignored.