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Top tips on how to educate girls to become tomorrow’s leaders


This article has been written by Clarissa Farr is the author of The Making of Her: Why School Matters.

I’m writing this in London on the hottest day ever recorded - 37 degrees and climbing, and not a leaf stirring outside where the tarmac smells of treacle. As the earth heats up, young people have been finding their voice, taking to the streets and demanding action. Leading them: a Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg.

How inspiring to see that example of young female leadership. Out there in the “real world” it doesn’t take long to discover that we still have far to go before we achieve equality for women: we’re decades away from equal pay, equal sharing of parental leave and proper respect for childcare, equal representation for women on boards and in the higher executive levels of almost all businesses. And we have the pressure of the superwoman legacy too.  We all know that birthday card of the glamorous young woman with eight arms. No, she’s not a Hindu warrior goddess, she’s a modern woman juggling baby, diary, ipad, iphone, washing up gloves and shopping, all without spoiling her manicure. 

As we return to school from a sweltering summer break, ready for a new school year and all the sense of a fresh start that September brings, how can we best prepare our daughters for all that lies ahead for them? How can we give them the courage and self belief to be agents of change?

Parents today know their girls need to learn the confidence and self belief to achieve, to aim high, to adapt and to take risks, to accept failure as part of learning to succeed, to find their voice and to seek out their own passions and interests. Much of this will happen at school - through the curriculum, creative arts and sport, through opportunities for leadership, through adult role models and through friendship. 

But as we parents know, that’s her world, not ours. A challenge for us is how to support the work of the school and build on what happens there while still encouraging her independent and self-determining spirit. Working together, school and home need to build that precious triangle of trust: school - home - student. Keeping good communication open, that way we can see them through most things.

And if despite being an enlightened modern parent you are occasionally struggling to cope with a free-range adolescent girl in the house, here are a few thoughts for that first week back….

I don’t like the new French teacher! Madame Bovary was so cool and now she’s gone off to have a baby….

It’s good to get used to a new teacher. Makes you more adaptable. Be patient and you’ll get to like this new one just as much

I’m no good at Maths! 

Perhaps you find Maths hard, but with patience and practice, you can do better. Stick at it - it’s called having a ‘growth mindset’.

I didn’t get into the netball team. Now I hate sport.

Well, they have another selection later in the term don’t they? Pick yourself up, work hard in the skills sessions and you may get selected next time. 

My first history essay was rubbish!

I notice there is a comment on it as well as the grade. Shall we look at that to see how you can make the next one better?

You never listen to me, you’re always too busy working or sending emails!

You’re right. Let’s take some time out to see a film together at the weekend. We can both use a technology detox.

I’ve decided to become a free-solo climber.

Right. That sounds exciting. How about we take a course at the local climbing wall and learn how to get used to heights and use ropes properly first?

We may be on a lifelong learning curve as parents of post millennial girls, but from my own experience - as teacher, headmistress and mother - I cannot help feeling optimistic about the future in their hands. 

Clarissa Farr is an expert in education and leadership, a non-executive director and a writer. As High Mistress of St Paul’s Girls’ School for eleven years, Clarissa led one of the country’s top academic schools, also becoming a regular correspondent for The Times letters page and a commentator on wider educational issues. She now works in international education on the board of the African Gifted Foundation, which is transforming the lives of African girls in Maths and Science. She is the author of The Making of Her: Why School Matters.