Pupils at girls' schools 'more confident' to call out sexual harassment, says president

20th November 2017 at 18:16
Secondary school pupils
Headteacher talks about boosting confidence in girls and underlines importance of role models who are not celebrities

Girls who have attended single-sex schools are likely to have the confidence to "call out" sexual harassment, a leading headteacher has suggested.

Charlotte Avery, who is also president of the Girls' Schools Association (GSA), said that there is no sense of such behaviour being "normalised" in girls' schools.

Ms Avery, head of St Mary's School, Cambridge, was asked if she agreed that attending single-sex schools – and being spared unwanted attention from males – influences girls' confidence.

'Privileged space'

Speaking to the press at the annual GSA conference in Manchester, she said: "Yes, I do – I think that there isn't any sense of it being normalised, because they don't see it, because it is simply not there.

"So I think they are then possibly surprised when they hear about it. I think they are aware of it – and think 'well it wouldn't happen here'.

"Well, of course, it wouldn't happen here because they are in a privileged space, so I always say to the girls 'you are in a privileged space now, you have got the opportunity to learn, to really understand who you are and what difference you want to make'.

"And then when they go out and they are involving themselves post-puberty, because I think puberty is a different area from adult life, when they go out and meet men and indeed women who have been at co-ed schools, that they have the confidence to be able to call it out in a way, because it is something that is different to them."

Harassment awareness

Ms Avery's comments come amid widely reported allegations of sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood and Westminster.

She said that safeguarding is a priority for all schools and there is now a culture of openness.

Asked whether she believed it was important to have celebrities and public figures speaking out about sexual harassment and discrimination, she replied that it was "absolutely" important.

She added: "I also think it's really important that the girls have role models who are not just celebrities, because the aspiration to be a celebrity is unreal, they're not going to end up, most of them being a celebrity.

"So if they can find role models who are less elevated but still present in their lives, and that might be a teacher, it might be a figure in their life outside school, that's also very important."

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