Ladies Day at the Boys’™ Club

Tamara Pearson, Junior School deputy head at Burgess Hill School for Girls, on one of the downsides of co-educational schools

British author, Peter Mayle, once wrote that one of the most coveted items by the man about town was “a pair of hand-cut, hand-stitched, hand-built shoes, created solely for the very personal idiosyncrasies of toes and contusions and bony out toppings that make up the unique gentlemanly foot”.

These words, from an old boy of a school I attended myself, resonated profoundly, as over the years I have learnt that things designed for purpose, bespoke to the customer are far more desirable. In times of financial hardship, corners can be cut in all sectors, resulting in homogenised products which lack any personal touch.

The education sector is no different. With some schools employing executive senior leadership without teaching experience, it is becoming increasingly apparent that there are establishments whose business plan comes before their teaching and learning. Educational visionaries of the Victorian era have seen their legacies unravelled to allow for economic conditions of our time.

My own parents worked extremely hard to move me from an inner-London state school to public schools in Sussex. It was a time when many of the sprawling, flint and red brick campuses were feeling the pressure of dwindling numbers and reluctantly began ‘allowing’ girls into their Sixth Forms. Within years, many traditional boys’ schools became fully co-educational – perhaps born more out of financial pressure than an educational benefit (it is important to note that research shows boys benefit from co-education, whereas girls flourish in single-sex education).

The relevance of new parent clichés has certainly not been lost on me in recent months. Since the birth of our daughter in April, the overwhelming sense of love, responsibility and wanting to provide the best for her have been profound. It has inevitably made me think about the future path I intend my daughter to follow.

For example, at Burgess Hill School for Girls, girls are welcomed and celebrated every day, as they always have been. There is no doubt that girls learn differently and single sex schools are experts in catering to this. Unspoken gender stereotypes and boundaries cease to exist and girls are free to thrive in STEM subjects, creative arts, sports and personal development. Those uncomfortable, self-conscious years where co-education can provide its own challenges are by-passed, allowing girls to capitalise on all aspects of school life.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have benefitted from an independent education. However, as a girl who was ‘allowed’ to attend former boys’ schools, I could not shrug off that overarching feeling that it was purely ‘Ladies Day’ at the Boys’ Club. Traditions, activities, and curriculum were all passed down from the founding fathers of the establishments. The subtleties of school ethos play an enormous part in the experience had by each child. 

As a lover of shoes, I find myself agreeing with Peter Mayle’s observation of bespoke footwear. As a professional educator and, more so now, as a parent, I cannot ignore the benefit of a truly tailored, built-for-purpose education for my daughter. 



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