School boss wants girls to be encouraged to be disrupted

Girls must be encouraged to be ‘disruptive’ to prepare them to do battle in their careers, says schools boss

Dr Kevin Stannard said young women should be empowered to take risks
Praising them for politeness fails to equip them for later life

PUBLISHED: 17:33, 19 July 2013 | UPDATED: 17:36, 19 July 2013

Girls should be ‘disruptive’ in class as challenging authority will help them in their careers, according to the boss of a leading private school group.

Dr Kevin Stannard, head of innovation and learning at the Girls’ Day School Trust, which runs 26 schools, said it was common for girls to be praised for good manners, politeness and even neat written work.

But it would be more ‘empowering’ for young women to question what they are told and take risks, he said.

Girls now outperform boys at every stage of their education, from primary school exams to GCSEs and A-Levels and are more likely to attend university and graduate with a good degree.

However men earn around 10 per cent more than women, recent figures showed, and Dr Stannard warned that praising girls for their politeness, neatness and balanced well thought-out essays may be counterproductive.

In an article in the Times Educational Supplement, he questioned whether the education system was ‘doing girls a long-term disservice’ by conforming to gender stereotypes of behaviour.

Dr Stannard said ‘Of course, encouragement of ‘misbehaviour’ should only go so far. We don’t want to motivate students to not value academic success.

‘But disruptiveness – as in the willingness to question, suggest alternatives, challenge, take risks, adapt and lead – can be very empowering.’

He quoted authors who claim that ‘disruption is a proven path to success’ suggesting that girls learn to ‘challenge and influence authority’.

Schools should alter their view of ‘disruptiveness’ as something to be discouraged, he said, instead embrace it as something ‘not so very far from those of resourcefulness, resilience, enterprise, adventurousness, risk-taking, determination, standing up for yourself, leadership and connectivity, which good schools do indeed seek to encourage and develop in girls.’

He praised a proposal at independent Putney High School in South West London to give sixth formers lessons in stand-up comedy to improve their risk-taking skills and show them how to ‘think on their feet’.

Last term pupils from single-sex Wimbledon High School, a private girls school also in South West London, were taught about boasting, self-promotion and celebrating success as part of an innovative ‘blow your own trumpet week’.

Dr Stannard said that other single-sex schools had promoted debating societies and encouraged pupils to sit tests with ‘impossible questions’ to get them to think in different ways.

He argued: ‘As testing in schools becomes ever more standardised, modularised and tick-box in form, we run the risk of inadvertently encouraging girls in their typically more measured, stepwise approach to tasks.

‘When we give higher marks to essays that show balance and give equal weight to opposing arguments, and praise girls who shine in set-piece performances, recitations and productions, we could be setting them up to fail when they face more competitive, combative situations such as interviews for selective universities.’

Dr Stannard has previously spoken out about the need for more male teachers in both boys and girls schools so children do not associate certain jobs with men or women.

But the chief executive of the GDST group, which regularly top the school league tables, made headlines last year by saying girls should work as hard at finding a good husband as on their careers.

Helen Fraser, 63, told the trust’s annual conference girls should be ‘ambitious’ in their relationships just as they aspire to the top universities – as they need to find the right partner who ‘shares the load at home’ if they want to have it all, a career, marriage and motherhood.

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