Why an all-girls’ prep school is ‘girl heaven’
Sarah Wicks, Headmistress of Knighton House School
Girls in the modern world
In recent years, the world has changed and so have expectations for girls. Girls grow into women who are expected to balance many different roles later in life. I believe that we can give girls the best start by educating them in the right way as they grow up, giving them a secure, free environment in which to develop and learn at their own pace, with the right level of challenge and support.
In a single-sex prep school such as Knighton House, our job is to celebrate how girls do things, ensure they are valued, and affirm them as individuals regardless of all the other elements around them. We work hard to achieve the right balance of healthy active outdoor lifestyle and strong academic results to develop charming, brave and passionate pupils within a warm and supportive community.
The learning environment – where happiness creates success
The vision that has sustained us for the last 65 years has been around providing a ‘home away from home’, where girls can flourish in an atmosphere of security, encouragement, space and freedom. An all-girls’ environment allows us to do this without the pressure, social distraction and anxiety that a mixed environment can create. The girls can grow at their own pace, free from stereotypical notions. It is often said that a single-sex education allows pupils to be themselves until later in life. A girls’ school is often smaller than its co-ed counterpart and this in itself enables more tailored education.
Girls in all-girls’ schools are free to pursue academic excellence in any area they choose, including in the 'gender atypical' areas of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Statistics show that girls from all-girls' schools are more likely to study STEM at school and pursue university studies and careers in STEM fields.
From a teaching perspective, an all-girls’ environment allows a real understanding of how girls learn. Research has shown that girls can be more passive and accommodating when learning in a mixed environment. Boys often need a more active approach, whereas girls need more reassurance. In a single-sex school the teaching staff don’t need to compromise on their approach but can give real focus to nurturing talent in the right way and give the girls the confidence in all subjects, free of any gender stereotypes.
Warm and supportive community
The pastoral perspective of any prep school is very important. We pride ourselves on having great experience of understanding girl-related pastoral issues and creating a warm and supportive ‘family’ around the pupils. Over 25 years' experience of working in an all-girls' boarding environment has shown me that between the ages of 11 and 13 girls are particularly vulnerable to friendship issues, as they learn to deal with new emotions and sensitivities. Girls at this age can vary enormously in both physical and emotional maturity, and guiding pupils through this sometimes difficult transition is a key part of the tutor's or matron's role. Through gentle and sympathetic understanding, girls learn how to resolve conflict in a calm and reflective manner. A crucial part of a boarding school education is learning how to live comfortably with other people.
In a single-sex environment there are no expectations that pupils should fulfil traditional gender stereotypes in the subjects they study, the activities they participate in or the careers they pursue. For example at a girls' school, a girl occupies every role: every part in the play, every seat on the student council, every position on every team. Pupils are surrounded by positive female role models, on the staff, in the parent body, including our first female Chair of Governors, and among the alumni. At our recent 65th anniversary celebrations, it was a great thrill to talk to former pupils – dynamic young women, successfully pursuing a broad spectrum of careers in medicine, law, technology, land management and theatre production, among many others.
That is not to say that our leavers are not prepared for life beyond an all-girls' prep school. More than half of our leavers go on to large co-ed senior schools and have no issue coping with the transition. Instead they have the confidence to continue to be themselves, not to be distracted from their goals or persuaded from their passions; a confidence which has been nurtured in a loving and supportive environment.
Success comes from giving them leadership, building confidence, independence, integrity and an instinct to achieve. We want our girls to embrace the world of the twenty-first century but with character strengthened by traditional values. We prepare them for the challenges but try to keep them protected from the pressures of it for as long as possible. We allow them to enjoy being girls while they can, while developing in them the qualities and ambitions to become successful young women.
Sarah Wicks became Headmistress of Knighton House in 2014. She came to Knighton House 20 years ago and served as Deputy Head from 2005. She previously taught at the Royal Masonic School in Hertfordshire.