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Girls’ schools: combining sport and academic success April 26, 2011

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in Independent Education.
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Today is the deadline for apply for tickets to see events at the 2012 Olympics in London. At the time of writing, demand was soaring for the event, which has brought sport sharply into focus in the UK.

Sport in schools and getting more kids involved in sport has long been a priority for UK governments – although independent schools here have an excellent record in promoting and developing a love and aptitude for sport in their pupils.

Here, in this article that appeared in the recently published Which London School? & the South East 2011/12, Rachel Kerr of the Girls’ School Association explains why girls thrive at sports at single-sex schools.

Girls’ schools: combining sport and academic success

It is not just because single-sex schools dominate the top of the examination league tables that a girls’ school could be the right choice for your daughter. Most parents agree that it’s a good thing for their child to learn to enjoy exercise and, for many, the PE provision and sports opportunities an all-girls school offers are a key attraction. The teamwork, commitment, communication, discipline, respect and healthy attitude to taking part which our children learn from sport are all skills that stand them in good stead for the future, both personally and professionally.

Parents with daughters generally have more choice than those with sons as, in addition to coeducational schools, there are more all-girls schools in the UK than there are single sex boys’ schools. With so much choice, it’s important to be aware of what makes the benefits of sporting provision in girls’ schools subtly different from those of a coeducational school, and how your daughter might expect to gain from that difference.

In a society that is so image-conscious, sport creates the opportunity to develop a positive body image and a positive outlook on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. In an all-girls school, that positive body image can develop all the more quickly without the added self consciousness which often comes from thinking that boys are looking at you, and without worrying about your appearance when you return to lessons slightly red-faced.

What’s more, in an all-girls school, girls get to do everything. As Chriz Poultney, head of PE at Manor House School says: “In an all-girl environment pupils can fully celebrate their individual and team achievements without being overshadowed by any male sporting prowess, prejudices or opinions. They are able to participate and blossom without embarrassment or a hidden agenda of worrying about what they look like whilst competing.”

This is a view echoed by St Albans High School for Girls, where head of PE, Michelle Bacon, adds “In girls’ schools, female sporting success is celebrated as being normal, expected and limitless.”

Girls’ schools are at the cutting edge of sports provision. Across London and the South East they offer a staggering choice of competitive games, facilities, avenues for excellence and innovative coaching. Girls represent their school, district, county, region and even their country in their chosen sport. At Wycombe Abbey, where there is a state-of-the-art sports centre and pool, pupils represent England at lacrosse. Jess Harper, a sixth form student at Putney High School, is not alone in achieving sporting prowess thanks to the inspiration and accommodation of her school. Jess has been selected for the British Swimming World Class Talent Programme, and is now part of a scheme designed to nurture talent for the 2012 Paralympics, having already achieved success at the National and International British Swimming Championships at the same time as getting top GCSE results. She says: “It’s definitely a challenge to combine my training with school work but having Putney’s support has made it much easier.”

Sport is a route to personal as well as physical development, with sports tours offering opportunities to explore the world and other cultures. At Croydon High School, for example, elite teams have toured countries such as South Africa, Malta and Barbados where they not only compete but also enjoy communicating through the common language of sport.

It’s not just in the traditionally ‘female’ sports that pupils in all-girls schools excel. In fact, one of the great benefits of an all-girls school is that there is no gender stereotyping. Girls are leaders, they excel as much in physics, engineering and design technology as they do in English, drama and art, and they are free to pursue and achieve in every sport their school offers. At St James Senior Girls’ School, for example, successful female athletes are celebrated role models and one of the visiting coaches is a female England rugby player.

Similarly, at Godolphin & Latymer, football, cricket and kickboxing thrive alongside netball, hockey and rounders. Of course not all girls aspire to be great athletes, but, as Lynne Crighton, headmistress at St Margaret’s School (Hertfordshire) says “they all need to be encouraged to participate and develop habits which will keep them healthy in later life. A good school will offer a range of sporting options and encourage everyone to be involved in something. This is what parents should be looking at, not just the reputation of the first team.” In a highly successful initiative at Queensgate School, 300 of the 450 girls take part in optional early morning sports clubs from 7am until breakfast is served and lessons begin.

Combining sport with academic success is something girls’ schools do particularly well. At South Hampstead High School they find that many of the girls who perform well in class are the same students who are in most of the sports teams. “They prove time and time again”, says their head of PE, “that they can manage their time, use their organisation skills and be disciplined and determined to succeed in all they do.”

Girls’ schools don’t just offer equal opportunity – they offer every opportunity, and sport is no exception. For further information about girls’ schools in London and the South East, see www.gsa.uk.com.

The schools featured in this article are only some of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA) schools located in London and the South East. The GSA represents all the UK’s independent girls’ schools.

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