Motivated by an article written by Helen Fraser, the chief executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust, in June 2013, I gave an assembly to the school on Fraser’s interpretation of the so-called Tiara Syndrome. The symptoms of this syndrome include, in part, the apparent lack of confidence experienced by girls in talking openly about their achievements. Fraser comments that “women are often highly diligent, organised and effective, but are reluctant to call attention to their achievements”. Instead of discussing and celebrating their successes, girls expect others to place a metaphorical tiara on their head.
Tiara Syndrome, Fraser argues, could account for the lack of equality amongst those holding the country’s top jobs, despite the fact that girls perform very well in examinations. Indeed, the Telegraph reported in August that 24.8 per cent of examinations sat by girls were awarded either a grade A* or A, compared with 17.6 per cent of those sat by boys. Could this apparent later inequality be due, in part, to girls and women not pushing themselves forward with the confidence needed to achieve at the highest level in the workplace? During the assembly, I focused on the achievements of the girls and female members of staff at the school and how the celebration of not only our own successes, but also those of others, should be considered a priority for the year. During the rest of the week, the girls wrote about their accomplishments, resulting in a wonderful display in reception – a cause of delight for students, parents and visitors.
A special occasion to celebrate the achievements of our students is welcome, as are speech nights and other public events. However, really celebrating success needs to be much more than this. We have to encourage girls to reject the need for that metaphorical tiara and to have the self-confidence to talk openly and honestly about what they have attained, rather than hiding behind self-deprecating statements of modesty. Praise needs to be part of the ethos of the school – at the heart of what it does, from the vision of the school as a whole to the learning objective of each and every lesson. This includes the value we place on success on the sports field, the way we applaud those who play their instruments in assembly, how we value perseverance and effort, and the response of the teacher to the child who has finally understood a difficult element of algebra!
At Manchester High School for Girls, the focus on celebrating success has meant lots of subtle changes which have had a wide-reaching impact. Our ‘celebration’ board in the reception area, now a permanent fixture, details the achievements of girls in all contexts – from horse riding to swimming, from success in the Crest Award to athletic prowess. Also, a daily reflection encourages girls to target what they aim to achieve by the end of the day. An openness to new ideas and a welcoming approach to initiative have encouraged a confidence amongst our girls which I have never seen before. Whether these ideas involve girls planning social events amongst their year group, or a Sixth Form girl presenting a moving whole school assembly on her fundraising ideas for a new wheelchair for a sibling, the effects have been far reaching and impactful. Not only is the achievement of the individual celebrated in a new way, but the sense of mutual support and community are taking our girls forward in a positive and meaningful way. I firmly believe that Manchester High pupils are developing their self-confidence to the point that they can begin to leave their tiaras behind.