Choosing a senior school for your daughter is a huge decision for any parent and single sex vs co-ed is high up on the list of considerations. The academic benefits of single sex schools for girls are well documented. But have you thought about all the other ways that girls’ schools help to give young women an edge?

Girls’ schools focus on empowering young women to become leaders, thinkers, and innovators. By providing a supportive and inclusive environment, girls are encouraged to speak up, take risks, and pursue their passions.

Mayfield School, an independent boarding and day school for girls aged 11 to 18, set in the beautiful Sussex countryside, is one school that really adopts this mindset. Read on to find out how girls’ schools, like Mayfield, are helping to challenge gender stereotypes and set girls up for life after school.

An environment free from stereotypes can bring out the best in girls

Girls’ schools provide a nurturing environment that helps to bring out the best in them. Teachers are able to focus on individual abilities and interests rather than gender stereotypes.

Although not always the case, girls can sometimes get overlooked in a classroom full of boys – especially if they don’t feel brave enough to speak up. Without the pressure to impress boys, girls also tend to be more willing to take risks.

Girls and boys often learn differently as well – with many girls responding better to working collaboratively. Creating a safe space, where girls are able to explore their ideas freely, really helps to boost girls’ confidence.

Annabel Bunce, Deputy Head, Academic at Mayfield says: “At Mayfield, our mission is to minimise gender-weighted, subject choice stereotypes that prevent girls from thriving in STEM. It is our school mission to equip girls with the confidence and opportunities to encourage them to embrace Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering from an early age.”

She continues: “Ensuring we provide a progressive learning journey for the girls is incredibly important and this begins at the start of Year 7. In Computer Science our Lego League Club allows our Lower school girls to use their computing skills to design, build and programme their own Lego robot, which develops the skills necessary to thrive in our Middle School and Senior STEM clubs.”

John Doy, Head of Sixth Form at Mayfield adds: “It is genuinely exciting to see young women fired up about science and technology because they have been given the space to develop these interests in an environment that dispenses with any kind of concept of boys’ or girls’ subjects.”


Nurturing creativity across the curriculum – in STEM and beyond

A girls-only environment inside (and outside) the classroom gives young women the freedom to excel in traditionally male-dominated subjects – such as science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM).

This is certainly the case at Mayfield School. Unusually for a girls’ school, last year the most popular A level subjects were Maths, Psychology and Chemistry. These were often combined with creative subjects such as Art or Ceramics.

Antonia Beary, Headmistress at Mayfield says: “Mayfield helps girls to challenge stereotypical views of what they can and should achieve. Mathematics and the sciences are among our most popular and successful subjects. We also excel in areas traditionally considered to be ‘creative’. Mayfield produces world-renowned ceramicists, has a dynamic Drama Department and an enviable sporting tradition.”

She continues: “The key to success is to encourage and nurture the girls’ creativity in everything we do, both inside and outside the classroom. Our foundress at Mayfield was ahead of her time in placing creativity at the heart of our curriculum and encouraging an appreciation of interdisciplinary approaches when she established the School over 150 years ago. To be a good scientist you need to be creative; to be a fine artist you need discipline, structure and perspective. This approach leads to girls choosing an eclectic range of A level option choices: Chemistry and Ceramics, or Physics and History of Art are not unusual combinations.”

Mrs Annabel Bunce, Deputy Head Academic at Mayfield further comments: “The support on offer from our dedicated teachers helps the girls aim high and be ambitious; in the last three years four Mayfield Girls have been awarded prestigious Arkwright Engineering Scholarships.”

“This ‘can do’ attitude in relation to STEM has paid dividends, with STEM subjects now our most popular A levels, leading to outstanding results. In summer 2022 we achieved an average of 63% A* grades in STEM (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Maths and Further Maths) subjects, with four girls gaining ‘STEM’ places at Cambridge University.” 


The opportunity to take part in a broader range of extra-curricular activities including sport

It is interesting to see that in co-ed schools, girls tend to have higher participation in clubs relating to the arts, rather than gaming, science, or traditionally male-dominated sports. A recent study by the Girls’ School Association found that significantly more girls participate in sports such as cricket, football, and rugby in GSA schools compared to the national average.  

Mayfield believes that while academic study is important, the benefits which stem from a broad and balanced education are immeasurable. The School’s programme of extra and co-curricular activities is wide and varied – with over 100 extra-curricular sessions on offer every week.

The Junior Tech Club gives pupils the opportunity to design, build, and fly a drone using CAD software. Amongst the School’s quirkier clubs, The Dungeons and Dragons Club is based on the fantasy role playing game. There’s also the Astronomy Club, The Philosophy Salon, Forensics Club, Farm Club, and Geocaching.

Girls at Mayfield can also complete the Sports Leadership Award – which is a nationally recognised qualification. Emily Starr, Mayfield’s Director of Sport, said: “Research has shown that girls’ interest in sport wanes as they become teenagers. At Mayfield we are keen to encourage girls to continue playing sport into the Sixth Form. The Sports Leadership Award, which is nationally recognised, develops girls’ leadership skills whilst helping them stay physically active”.

Many Mayfield pupils have gone on to excel in sports and the School counts British lightweight two-time world champion rower, Emily Craig, amongst its alumnae.

Empowering the next generation of young women

Without boys, teachers are able to focus on building up girls’ confidence, helping to shape the next generation of women leaders.

Mayfield provides a wide range of leadership opportunities for their pupils. This enables girls to get involved with key areas including the environment, mental health and wellbeing, digital awareness and innovation, and charity and communities.

Other initiatives include the Model United Nations Programme. Last year, six girls from Mayfield School attended the 7th Annual MUN Conference in Poland, along with pupils from across Europe. MUN is an educational simulation of the actual United Nations in which students can learn about diplomacy and international relations.

At a MUN conference, students work as the representative of a country and debate issues with the aim of reaching an acceptable resolution with other delegates from around the world. Mrs Kasia Kilvington, MUN lead at Mayfield, said: “MUN has quite literally transformed the lives of some of the girls at Mayfield. The role play element has enabled pupils who never believed they could speak in public to stand up and do just that.”

“They have found a group of peers, passionate about current affairs and finding solutions to global issues. They have learned about countries and problems that they never even knew existed. It has made them keen researchers and critical thinkers, having to scrutinise nuance in the delicate wording of resolutions, and given them immense confidence, both personally and academically.”


Giving young women inspiring role models

Girls’ schools can help to challenge gender stereotypes by providing young women with a variety of strong women role models. This includes older pupils, successful women leaders, as well as examples of strong females from history.

Being a school with only 425 pupils, girls at Mayfield have the opportunity to work with other pupils across the year groups. The older girls are encouraged to be positive role models for the younger ones.

Sixth formers run peer-to-peer clinics in subjects such as Maths. There are also 10 Sixth Form Mental Health Ambassadors who help support girls from across all the year groups. And there are plenty of opportunities for the year groups to work together in the House system.

Mayfield also invites external speakers and alumnae in various fields including science, technology, business, politics, and the arts to give talks to their pupils. Recent speakers have included McLaren Engineer Holly Yeomans, AI expert Katie King, and British Army Helicopter Pilot Lizzie Cranfield (who is a Mayfield alumna).

The opportunity to learn about successful women is a very powerful tool to help girls believe in themselves. And an environment where girls can see each other enjoying success – whether that’s in subjects such as Mathematics, school leadership roles, or on the sports field – really proves that they can achieve their ambitions.

This is a sponsored post created in collaboration with Mayfield School, Catholic independent boarding and day school for girls aged 11 to 18, set in the Sussex countryside.

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