20 May 2011 / GIRLS' SCHOOLS PRODUCE TOP SPORTS' PERFORMERS
Almost 88 per cent of Girls' Schools Association schools educate girls who compete at national level in their chosen sport and many of these have their sights on the 2016 Olympics.
Neither do the endless training schedules and intense sporting competition seem to come at a price. On the contrary, GSA schools produce top A Level results and by far the highest university transition rate of the entire independent schools sector - 95 per cent of GSA leavers go on to higher education and 92.5 per cent to university&.
"It's a bit of a cliché for independent girls' schools to say they produce all-rounders but that's because it's generally true," says GSA president Dr Helen Wright, who is also head of St Mary's Calne school in Wiltshire. "The days when pupils were expected to follow one path narrowly have gone. We find that the more opportunities girls have to participate in a full programme at school, the more likely they are to excel in many different areas and find an area where they particularly shine as these top young sportswomen have. I'm tremendously proud that so many pupils from the UK's girls' schools are set to become Olympians."
So what makes the difference? How do ambitious young sportswomen, who need to maintain a balanced life, achieve academic success as well?
The difference, as suggested by Lesley Watson, principal at Moira House Girls' School and chair of the GSA sports committee, is in the excellent support mechanisms provided by the staff in independent girls' schools. She says:
"When you look at the schools which have girls competing at International level, there may be a disparity in terms of the facilities and resources that they possess, but the common denominator in all is the support and encouragement they give. Girls are given the opportunity to develop in their individual sports and academic support is given to enable them to achieve at the highest level. That's what makes the difference."
As part of this support mechanism, the Girls' Schools Association organises an annual Girls Go Gold conference to inspire young elite sportswomen. Each year approximately 15 girls per school attend. Dame Kelly Holmes will be the key note speaker at this year's event at Edgbaston High School for Girls in September.
Barcelona Olympics veteran (1992 heavyweight women's eight) Caroline Pascoe is now head of Truro High School for Girls where young sportswomen are given an in-school academic mentor, a scheme supported by the Youth Sports Trust. She says:
"If you have the determination to pursue a sport to Olympic standard you tend to have good time management skills. Olympians are excellent at managing their time and also tend to make self-assured leaders."
So much for the high fliers. But not all girls aspire to be Olympic athletes. As Jo MacKenzie, head of Bedford Girls' School, acknowledges, some girls don't aspire to sport at all. Miss MacKenzie says: "Because research shows that girls tend to drop out of sport between the ages of 16-24 we've decided to extend our PE provision beyond Year 11 and make it an integral part of the curriculum for all sixth form students. By continuing to put sport on the agenda we hope to encourage the girls to maintain physical activity during the week, making sport a natural and enjoyable part of their everyday lives in preparation for when they move on to university or working life."
Kerry Mullen, head of physical education and sports studies at Leweston School in Sherborne Dorset says:
"The positive effect of sports achievement appears in a myriad of unexpected places - self-esteem, individual belief, an ability to cope under pressure, commitment, work-life balance, academic performance, social life and general health. Sport at top level is so sophisticated that the ‘trickle down' effect to both the high end achiever and her peers is exciting."