We can fight misogynist leaders of today by creating more sagacious leaders for tomorrow

Jane Prescott, Headmistress of Portsmouth High School, calls upon her fellow teachers to encourage resilience in their pupils

Reading the news today you could be fooled into thinking we’ve returned to the early 1900s where women didn’t vote, and their voices certainly weren’t heard.

Men who assault women are allowed to lead countries and potentially enter the senate. As we’ve done time and time again, we will rise up and fight them by showing that our empathy and power can topple the leaders of today, who more often than not seem to have no interest at all in people’s rights.

It starts in school. It starts with how we teach our children to view and treat themselves and others, and it should start early on in a child’s education.

At every stage and age pupils should be encouraged to speak up and voice their opinions in a constructive and well-meaning way. Conversely the young are exposed to vitriolic and cowardly comments via online forums where commentators can hide behind the anonymity of a virtual profile. Never has it been more important, and especially for young women, to feel comfortable in standing up for what they believe and to feel confident to make the same or better progress than their male counterparts. Schools play their part in developing self-esteem and providing opportunity for young people to feel challenged in a supportive and encouraging environment.

At Portsmouth High Prep School, part of the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST), school councillors and form captains are elected from Year 1 where they assist teachers and take on duties for the class. As they get older they have more involvement in decision-making and when they leave in Year 6 they are empowered to take on roles of responsibility at the Senior School.

These leadership experiences, which develop their skills, allow the girls to have the opportunity to make things happen. Leadership instils confidence and helps children solve problems creatively, work in a team and work collaboratively with others.

Roles of responsibility vary; the Prep School Head Girl chairs the school council whilst music prefects organise and lead their own teatime concerts. Sports prefects lead playground games, and organise and help with clubs for younger girls.

House captains take the lead in running the house charity events that occur each year and help select and lead teams in house events. Plus, an eco-council meets regularly and takes the lead in sustainability. This year they have already met the local MP to discuss issues related to sustainability in the city.

In the Senior School, students’ leadership responsibilities continue with positions such as form captains, house captains, prefects, sports team captains and a Head Girl team. Furthermore, it isn’t all about leadership – it is also about collaboration and becoming a good team player. 

As we’ve done time and time again, we will rise up and fight them by showing that our empathy and power can topple the leaders of today

You’re hired!

Year 11 take part in an Apprentice-style day where they are asked to develop a product in teams. Last year it was a fruit juice and this year a perfume. The students learn how to divide responsibility and project manage what can become a fraught situation. Other year groups, for example Year 8, enjoy an engineering day where they build a toy model car to race. The atmosphere of friendly competition is palpable. Our Year 9 become cyber ambassadors helping those younger and older than themselves navigate the choppy waters of the digital world. There are some key components to encouraging participation in all these events and the expectation is that there is always a mutual respect for everyone taking part. It is possible to be competitive and still behave in a manner that does not leave anyone feeling inferior.

This year Mrs Lucinda Webb, Director of Communications at Portsmouth High School, accompanied our Head Girl team to the GDST Young Leaders Conference. She commented that it dispelled all myths ever written that girls take the back seat in decision-making. The 120 or so sixth-formers displayed every leadership characteristic in their two-day conference from delegation and empowerment to creativity and innovation.

Watching this group of girls was like watching an ant colony displaying the very best of behaviours; cooperating with each other and dividing tasks to create the most compelling pitches to support the specific needs of four real charities. The girls were motivated, meticulous and showed a deep commitment and drive for what they needed to produce by the end of day two. This was a real-life scenario and, if anyone was in any doubt, the charities were present throughout the process and judged the final presentation. There was no hiding; the girls had to work together and work together they did. Not having met before the first day they showed all the compelling features of GDST girls by being confident, courageous, composed and committed.

It is important that young people start to master skills that will carry them forward not only in higher education but in the workplace too. Young women need to have the resilience and skills to be the next generation of leaders and thrive and benefit from a more gender-inclusive environment.

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