By Mrs Gibson, Headmistress
I was very honoured to speak at the recent GSA Conference about the impact of Everyone’s Invited on our school community and what we have been doing to try to improve the situation for our students. Stamping out misogynistic behaviour and rape culture is such an important issue for our young women, They must be able to go out into the world feeling safe and believing that their opinions will be heard and valued. I have been incredibly proud of how our students reacted to the horrific stories that were shared through this website; they immediately realised that action needed to be taken and that they had an important role to play, despite this being such an emotionally charged issue.
Not only did our Sixth Formers want to work within BGS, they understood that to make a real difference in this area they needed to work in tandem with their male counterparts at Bedford School. They were pleased to discover that the boys were equally keen to collaborate to address these issues. By tackling this together in a safe and non-judgemental way, the Sixth Formers have started a partnership which we hope will be long-lasting in delivering a culture of respect between our young people. For this to be successful it is crucial that: they have empathy for one another; they understand how to interact with each other both socially and intellectually; and that if things go wrong, they know who to turn to and that they will always be listened to.
There is indisputable evidence that girls thrive in single-sex education: they develop greater mental toughness; the freedom from gender stereotype leads to girls being two and a half times more likely to take further Maths and Physics at A Level; they achieve academic excellence shown by a disproportionately large share of top grades in public examinations; and they have access to greater leadership opportunities. Nevertheless, we must equip our students to have positive relationships with both sexes, so they can flourish in the world beyond BGS.
It is important that we start building these links from a young age. We have a termly programme of joint events between the Junior School and Bedford Prep School, which provide exciting opportunities for pupils from both schools to explore collaborative learning across a range of themes: Performance Workshops, STEM activities, E-Safety Awareness Days and Practical Problem Solving. Last week, I had the great pleasure of watching Year 5 students from both schools join forces to face the challenges set by the teachers. Working as a cohesive team and forming positive bonds in the process, they tackled a blind-folded obstacle course, a pass the hula hoop task and a treasure hunt!
By the time they are in Sixth Form, the students are role models for their younger peers. It is why setting the tone in this age group is so important. The academic joint ventures between Bedford School and BGS encourage them to value each other as intellectual equals. Through joint IB Diploma trips and presentations, societies such as the Pythagoreans Society and Lovelace Society, and performing arts opportunities, our young adults collaborate and work side by side. Along with opportunities for light hearted socialising our students get to know each other better so that mutual respect and understanding can grow. This year, I have been greatly impressed by the Sixth Formers working jointly to facilitate peer training for Year 9 students in both schools on relationships, consent and being active bystanders.
We will continue to ensure that our students have a strong voice in all aspects of their life, whilst giving them the ability to empathise with others and learn how to find solutions to complex issues as a team, safe in the knowledge that we are here to support them every step of the way.
We hope that our students live by the adage of American Suffrage activist, Carrie Chapman Catt: “To the wrongs that need resistance, To the right that needs assistance, To the future in the distance, Give yourselves.” but they should also be inspired by the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, who said “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” I know that our students have high aspirations for their futures in a world that they expect to be free from gender bias and inequality. They have made a great start in making this dream a reality and I look forward to seeing what they achieve next.