Girls should be proud of being girls, the Ofsted chief has said following a leading school’s decision to ditch the “binary” head girl title.
Last week, it emerged that St Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith is to rename the position head girl, after pupils asked for it to be given the more inclusive title of head of school.
The prestigious London day school, which charges pupils £26,000 per year, counts the chemist Rosalind Franklin as well as the actors Emily Mortimer and Rachel Weisz among its alumnae.
Amanda Spielman, the Ofsted chief inspector, who is also an alumna of St Paul’s Girls’ School, told BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour that it was “sad” her alma mater had decided to drop the title.
“I think it’s so sad if girls can’t be proud of being girls,” she said. “There’s so much debate isn’t there, and it always seems to focus on girls and whether girls or women can be characterised that way.
“I just hope that St Paul’s Girls’ School, and every other girls’ school, can carry on encouraging most of their girls …. Of course there’ll always be a few exploring their sexuality and gender but let’s hope girls can carry on being proud of being girls.”
Asked about guidance from Stonewall advising that teachers should drop the term “boys and girls” in favour of “learners”, Ms Spielman said: “I think it’s very important that we talk about children in natural language.
“The more we shift away from the kind of words mothers, fathers, children, teachers naturally use, the more remote things get, and the harder it is for people to think about them. I am very much in favour of using natural comfortable terminology.”
St Paul’s Girls’ School, which was founded by the Worshipful Company of Mercers in 1904, is one of the country’s top performing schools for GCSE and A-level results.
Its high mistress, Sarah Fletcher, said that “reasoned and respectful discussion” was crucial to the development of the school’s pupils.
‘At least 150 different gender identities’
“We have never, and would never, encourage a student to ‘be’ anything in relation to their identity. We want our students to be happy as themselves,” she said.
“Our focus is on providing a respectful, kind, safe and non-judgmental environment in which our students are free to explore their own identity.”
“Young people are talking about gender identity, and our role as a school is to equip the staff with an understanding that supports students’ ability to reach out to them for support, and navigate this safely.”
Helen Semple, the deputy head of the school, reportedly gave a training session in April, during which it was claimed that there are at least 150 different gender identities.
The session, which was called “Beyond the Binary: Understanding how to be inclusive for all gender identities”, welcomed Emma Cusdin, a transgender woman whose company Global Butterflies “helps companies create trans inclusive working environments”.
Parents should not be “afraid to ask” their children about unfamiliar terminology surrounding gender, and often “haven’t had access” to the same education around gender issues as school staff, Ms Cusdin said.
A spokesman for St Paul’s Girls’ School said: “It was the suggestion of our senior students that we change the name from ‘head girl’ to ‘head of school’ as more modern, age appropriate and inclusive.
“In doing so, we are returning to our roots. From our very foundation in 1904, and for decades afterwards, the senior student was called ‘head of the school’, so in making the change, we are confirming, not denying, our ethos and traditions.”