When I tell people that I went to an all girl’s secondary school, their response, more often than not, is “How was that?”
Either that or: “Was it full of lesbians?”
Secondary school is a funny old time – you have the pressure of exams and your impending future, but you’re also trying to grow up and go through puberty and become a person. It’s probably the time when you have your first sexual experiences, start getting drunk, socialising, doing teenage things. Getting to do all of that with 900 other hormone ridden girls sounds like it should be absolute hell on earth (and sometimes it was). But I don’t think any other experience of my life has shaped me quite as much as those 7 years surrounded by girls.
The girls I spent those years with were some of the most ballsy, ridiculous, hilarious, silly women I will ever meet. They took no shit, not from teachers, not from the boys on the field at lunchtime, and not from each other.
Studies show that girls in single sex schools perform better than girls in mixed schools, whilst for boys, it makes little to no difference. I love that. Girls make each other better simply by being around each other. Because they feed off and find worth in each other.
Our school was divided into 6 houses, and once you were sorted (not by a hat), you wore the snowdrop badge with the colour of your house as the background. It all sounds very jolly, but let me tell you, the Olympics got nothing on year 8 Gym & Dance. There’s something about being divided into houses, and being forced to perform gymnastic and dance routines for house points that turns teenage girls animalistic. I have never seen such anger and fury, such commitment, and such hairspray.
There’s also that end of term madness that drives school children to Beatlemania style screaming. This madness was perpetuated only by the teachers panto which happened every other year. Watching your Religious Studies teacher parody Edward Cullen in ‘Twiglet’ is matched only by watching your Maths teacher rush into the audience to confiscate a giant inflatable naked man that was being thrown around like a volleyball.
These were the girls that always had tampons to give out, make-up to share, and plans to bully teachers. These were the girls that spent their last day of year 11 dressed as Gordon Brown (yes I was one of them) because it just seemed like a really funny thing to do. The girls who were the kind of friends that let you plank on them, or spent entire Saturdays making music videos for McFly songs.
It was a grammar school too – high pressure, hard-working, smart, serious. The best example I have of this is a lunchtime viewing of Cheaters by the entire sixth form being interrupted by the headteacher giving some important guests a tour. They were ushered out of the common room fairly sharpish.
When you’re in a house named after an important woman, it infiltrates your blood. Austen, Franklin, Curie, Parks, Rossetti and Shelley were ingrained in our brains, and held up as names to live up to. Founders Day was, and I’m sure continues to be, the most boring award ceremony in the world, but having ex-students come back and give speeches about the waves they were making in the world, couldn’t help but inspire you (Sophie Rundle was my fave). By going to that school, you become part of a long line of women. Women who have gone before you, attended that school, and gone onto greatness. That’s pretty darn cool.
It’s only now, in hindsight, that I can truly appreciate the magnitude of what my female teachers did for me. The strong, intelligent, funny, independent women who guided me through History, English and Drama were some of the most influential people I’ll ever know. When my Dad died in my final year, they were beacons of hope, and strength, and kind words. I would never have got my A-Levels and gone to university without them, and without the network of girls I had around me in that year.
I feel like I say it a lot but it’s true; gender is a social construct. I don’t know if I still think that gendered schools are a good thing – it feels outdated, to define young people by their gender. Some people don’t have a gender. Some people don’t identify with the gender they’re assigned at birth. But going to an all girl’s school taught me a lot about being a woman. It taught me about the power of young girls together.
And it got me 11 GCSE’s and 4 A-Levels. So everyone’s a winner.
Words by Sian Brett