Helping girls to take risks and get things wrong – school attitudes to risks, problem solving, enterprise and leadership
Lucy Elphinstone - Headmistress at Francis Holland School, Sloane Square
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I want to talk about joy! If I asked you what you wanted most for your children, I would hope you wouldn’t say five A* A levels and a job at Morgan Stanley. I would hope that your first thought would be that you want your children to be happy. To find fulfilment and joy! If your daughter grows into a confident, balanced, brave and joyful young woman, then you and the school that you chose will have done the best job in the world.
In order to talk about you, you must also talk about failure. Mrs. Elphinstone has spoken before about how she is not the typical Head of School. She has had multiple careers ranging from publishing, writing, property, design, marketing, counselling and hospitality before finally entering teaching in her late thirties.
The internet and social media has changed the landscape forever. With the advent of online terrorism, pornography and paedophilia, it’s no wonder that there is a growing concept of “helicopter parents” (parents who “hover around” to monitor and control a child’s access to internet content). Add to that the pressure of transfer exams and the pressure of over-tutoring to increase their chances of getting into a good school. Pressure which can mount on a child until they lose all confidence and independence.
Girls tend to be fragile, brittle and low in self-esteem, anxious, obsessed with body image, often resorting to self-harming in a number of ways. A far cry from a happy and carefree daughter. Some girls may feel that their worth is based on their exam grades. It may be the case that girls who perform exceptionally during exams may have done to so the detriment of their physical health and mental well-being. Consequently they may get into Cambridge or Oxford where other girls can be just as or eve more academically competitive, leading to further feelings of inadequacy.
If you are looking for the best school for your child, perhaps, rather than asking about exam results and school performance, ask what you can do as a parent to strengthen your child's resilience, independence and encourage their curiosity and imagination. Ask yourself, what priority do you place on your child's well-being and mental health? How do you teach your girls about qualities such as bravery, honesty, modesty and loyalty. What price do you set on your child's happiness?
Girls can often feel like they gain a sense of independence when they are doing things right and getting approval and this can cause them to only attempt the things in which they can do well. All the while frightened of doing things wrong. As this concept builds during their formative years, girls tend to seek approval from parents, teachers, and classmates. When they don't get the support that they feel like they need from these people, this has the potential to adversely impact their self-esteem and character development. Parents must do their best to ensure that their child understands that their love and approval is not conditional on academic performance, and that the child’s personal growth is more important than constantly striving to achieve what they may perceive as perfection. It is also important to find a school where your daughter is loved and valued for her individuality, where her gifts are recognised and nurtured, where she is encouraged to think outside the box, take risks and learn to be brave. It is important that girls know the importance of experiencing failure and being able to react and eventually overcome it with determination and perserverance.