Confidence vital in rapidly changing world, says new GSA Head

Sue Hincks, the incoming president of the Girls’ Schools Association, points to clarity of vision and understanding as key attributes for independent schools

The Girls’ Schools Association’s incoming President, Sue Hincks, says it’s vital that young people are helped in gaining confidence, critical judgement and a love of learning, if they are to navigate the rapidly changing environment of the 21st century. She is also calling for public figures and those in positions of leadership to remember that they are role models to children.

Sue Hincks will take over the one-year position of GSA President in January. She is also headmistress of Bolton School Girls’ Division. She says: “Schools have a complex job to do, because of the rapidly changing and highly visible world in which we live.

“The theme for my presidency will be 20/20 vision because, as we reach the end of the second decade of the 21st century, it seems to me that clarity of vision and understanding has never been more important. There are all sorts of people and influences which seek to cloud our judgement.

“GSA headteachers are trusted by parents to ensure that their daughters are well-informed, and have the analytical skills to process what they know and draw rational conclusions. Children are bombarded with a phenomenal amount of information via media of all kinds and, sadly, not all of it is correct; some of it is deliberately misleading.”

“We need to help young people to think clearly,” she adds, “to exercise their critical judgement and make decisions based on fact, rather than fake news. But we cannot do this alone. Public figures, too – whether they like it or not – have a responsibility to remember that young people are watching everything they do.”

We need to help young people to think clearly, to exercise their critical judgement and make decisions based on fact, rather than fake news

Commenting on women leaders, Mrs Hincks says: “Like boys, girls need positive male and female role models. In particular, girls are quite rightly being encouraged to seek out positive female role models in the world around them, and it’s important that we help them to make appropriate choices. In this day and age, women potentially benefit – in the media and in business – from being perceived as more authentic and holistic as they attempt to achieve a work-life balance. It is vital that we hold on to these strengths, and ensure that we teach the young women we work with to act with integrity and not to tell convenient lies as they strive to further their careers.”

On the organisation itself, Mrs Hincks says: “GSA and independent schools generally have a long history of providing young people with essential life skills, such as confidence and resilience. We also support parents and invite friends and former pupils back to school to talk about their careers and life experiences. Being able to see and speak to adults who were once like them can be hugely inspirational for children – as we saw recently when Michele Obama returned for a second visit to a London girls’ school – and inviting state school students to join us on these occasions is another way that independent schools can and do work in partnership.”

Mrs Hincks feels strongly about the role independent schools can play in social mobility. One out of five pupils at her own school in Bolton receives financial support from a substantial bursary fund, for which the school is currently fundraising, with the aim of increasing it from £20m to £50m.

Like most independent schools, Bolton has a vibrant programme of interaction and partnership with local state schools. Mrs Hincks says: “Independent schools can make an impact on social mobility in many different ways. For my school, the principle of open access has always been a priority. Today, one in five pupils at Bolton School receives financial support, and it is our aim is to be able to fund one in three, taking in the brightest children who apply, no matter what their financial means.”