This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Girls Day School Trust, and the celebrations have begun in earnest, with an assembly being beamed to GDST schools across the country last week, and an evening of celebration taking place at the Science Museum on Monday.
For me, the best way to mark this milestone is to reflect on the progress that has been made since four pioneering women, Maria Grey, Emily Sheriff, Mary Gurney and Henrietta Stanley, embarked on their mission to address the “general deficiency” in the provision of secondary education for girls.
Brighton Girls was one of the founding schools in the GDST and, looking at all the incredible activity amongst students, staff and parents, over the last fortnight, it is safe to assume that those four trailblazers would be rightly proud of their legacy. In the last few weeks, 221 students from Year 3 to Year 11 have taken part in the UK Bebras Challenge, which introduces budding coders to computational thinking; A Level computer scientists travelled to our sister school in Sutton to learn more about the GDST Space Technology Diploma; and we welcomed students from Wimbledon High to Brighton as part of our Bright ‘n’ Whimsy scholarship project, where teams from both schools designed a virtual exhibition space inspired by last term’s joint trip to the V&A Museum.
At the start of this week, I had the pleasure of attending the Annual Conference of the Girls’ School Association, of which all GDST schools are a part. In her opening address, this year’s Chair, Heather Hanbury, talked about the “feminine advantage”, and cited a growing body of research that suggests that “soft powers” – like co-opting rather than coercing, and taking a collaborative approach – are the qualities to which we should all aspire. In short, Hanbury told listeners that the key to success was simply this: “lead like a woman”.
These “soft powers” are celebrated daily at Brighton Girls. We are all looking forward to tomorrow’s Christmas Fair, an event that has been coordinated brilliantly by alumna and parent Elizabeth Rummery-Milne. Teams of students, parents and staff have been busy preparing stalls, organising refreshments, coordinating rotas – a huge endeavour, driven by collaboration and collective festive cheer.
Last night, we hosted a Girls’ Network event, an organisation that aims to “inspire and empower girls from the least advantaged communities by connecting them to a mentor and a network of professionals”. Thank you to the parents who came along and who may, as a result, volunteer to become a mentor, allowing girls from disadvantaged backgrounds to break both “glass ceilings” and “class ceilings” – another example of “soft powers” having an enormous impact.
On the topic of “glass ceilings” for women, there is a sense that the conversation is moving on. While there is work to do, there is an argument that more young women have no concept of a ceiling at all and are, in fact, reaching for the stars.
One such woman is Brighton Girls alumnae, Rose Coogan (Class of 2009), who this week became the European Space Agency’s first British female astronaut.
An incredible achievement from a girl from Brunswick Primary School, who arrived at Brighton & Hove High as a bursary student. Rose has not only shattered the glass ceiling but has demonstrated that, when it comes to getting ahead, not even the sky’s the limit.