“We deliver confident, caring, articulate students not ‘mean girls’”

Sydenham High’s Headteacher, Kathryn Pullen, responds to recent claims about girls’ education.


Richard Cairns, Head of Brighton College, East Sussex, feels that “girls in single sex schools are at a huge disadvantage.  Despite their clutch of A*s and degrees they can’t meaningfully converse and communicate with male colleagues”.

He’s worried that girls need to be in a class with boys if they are to learn to socialise with them and hold their own with boys in university and the world of work.

Kindness is “something much more common to schools that educate both boys and girls”, he asserts.

Mr Cairns needs to get out more.  His patronising tone reflects how very out of touch he is with contemporary girls in contemporary girls’ schools, where girls think for themselves and are offered and take every opportunity and succeed.  Who are these girls who can’t hold their own?  Where are they? Not at Sydenham High where our confident, articulate, reflective students have a voice and use it with robust sensitivity. Girls like alumnae Bianca Miller who got to the final of the Apprentice in 2014 and who says “at school nothing was impossible”. I hope he read her full rebuttal in the Brighton Argus.  Bianca’s inspired business idea for a range of nude tights has taken less than a year to get off the ground – without Lord Sugar’s funding – and, last week, the Bianca Miller London range went on sale in Selfridges.

Where does Mr Cairns’ rather bizarre assumption that socialising only happens in a classroom derive?  What about friends, what about family?  Teaching that extends well beyond both the classroom and curriculum is also there to ensure that girls meet and debate with boys, row on the Thames with them, attend masterclasses and do Enterprise projects together.

I don’t recognise his stereotypical “mean girls” who don’t get kindness in our girls, who raise huge amounts for charity and are currently working to build a school in Nepal; girls who peer mentor each other and look out for each other.  Girls who get on with what they come to school to do and that’s learn.

He’s right – girls do get great results in what he describes as “traditional male subjects” and which we just call “subjects”.  We don’t see traditional male subjects – just opportunities for the taking.

So do these cloistered girls confronted at university with their male counterparts cower?  Well the feedback we get from the huge diversity of universities and courses our girls go on to study is that they are delighted with the confident, capable, articulate young women we sent them.

Girls at girls’ schools:

  • Think for themselves
  • Challenge preconceptions
  • Are confident young women sure of their own worth
  • Work/interact/debate with boys/young male colleagues
  • Are engaged and engaging young women

To say they need boys to complete their education is nonsense: it’s the complete opposite.  The evidence is a network of highly successful alumnae in front facing fields across the work spectrum – entrepreneurs, directors, writers, performers – confirming Sullivan & Leonard’s 2011 findings that women who had been to single sex schools (go on) to earn higher wages than women who had been to co-ed schools.

At schools like ours, girls learn who they are and just what they are capable of so that, armed with this knowledge, they can go on to conquer the world on their terms.

Kathryn Pullen, Headteacher

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