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A time for reflection

Helen Fraser looks back over her time at the helm of the Girls' Day School Trust

Posted by Hannah Oakman | June 28, 2016 | People, policy, politics

At the end of this academic year, I shall step down from my role as CEO of the Girls’ Day School Trust after six and a half years at the helm. It has been a tremendous privilege for me to lead this amazing 144 year-old organisation, dedicated to the education of girls in our 24 schools and two academies.

When I arrived in 2010, I had spent my entire career in book publishing – latterly as MD at Penguin UK – so my knowledge of schools was pretty much confined to my experience as a parent and step parent of daughters educated in independent schools in London.

From the outset, I realised that teaching had become intensely modular with the knock on effect that children had developed a sort of ‘drag and drop’ mentality to learning. In the real world, this meant that maths students were arriving at university unable to remember anything of their maths GCSE. A shame for all concerned. 

I was disheartened but not surprised to find out that science and modern foreign languages survive in universities largely because they are so strong in independent schools. The fact that half of all maintained sector sixth forms have no girls studying physics A-level is certainly nothing to celebrate – it is girls’ schools like ours that are almost solely responsible for ensuring any girls study physics at all.

Six years ago, few people could have imagined the impact mobile technology would have on all our lives. The spread of the iPad and tablet into classrooms, and the growth of computing rather than the old IT courses, have opened up a raft of new opportunities with huge creative and entrepreneurial potential.

I realised that teaching had become intensely modular with the knock-on effect that children had developed a sort of 'drag and drop' mentality to learning  

I have been amazed and inspired in equal measure by the tenacity and creativity of the girls who took part in our annual Digital Leaders’ Conference and App Design Challenge. I have no doubt that many of them will go on to carve out successful careers as ‘women in tech’.

We place a similarly deliberate focus on the importance of sport for girls – very much on the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign model – so every girl can find a sport that suits her, whether it’s bouldering or paddle-boarding, or just playing in the ‘D’ team in fixtures. Everyone has something to contribute and it is our role, as educators, to provide the opportunity.

So, as I prepare to hand over the leadership baton, what will I take away with me? One constant theme of my six years at the GDST is the way in which our schools can prepare girls not just for A-levels and university, but for navigating a career path in a working world that is still not being built with women in mind.

Our focus has always been to build girls who are buoyant, able to cope with failure and setbacks, and to approach life with humour and energy. To strive for perfection is the enemy of a good life but displaying the GDST’s four ‘Cs’ – courage, composure, confidence and commitment – is a model we would always encourage our students to aspire to.


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