Education & Family
by Aspect County

Freedom from stereotyping

John Doy, Head of Sixth Form, Mayfield School

John Doy

One of the main arguments for an all-girls’ education is the freedom from the stereotyping that seems to creep in to any mixed environment. At A Level the statistics are quite startling. For example, a girl at a GSA school (Girls School Association, of which Mayfield is a member) is 75% more likely to take Maths at A Level, 70 % more likely to take Chemistry, and two and a half times more likely to take Physics, all subjects traditionally considered as hard’, male-oriented subjects. This is certainly something I have witnessed at Mayfield – Maths and the Sciences are far and away our most popular subjects at A Level (as an English graduate I concede this with a slightly heavy heart) and, if I look at our latest batch of university hopefuls, almost half of the cohort of 60 are going on to study Maths or Science based courses: we have engineers, physicists, chemists, earth and planetary scientists, medics, vets all going on to develop their skills in higher education. It is genuinely exciting to see young women fired up about science and technology and my experience tells me it is because they have been given the space to develop these interests in an environment that by its very nature dispenses with any kind of concept of boys’ or girls’ subjects. 

Mayfield Sixth Form Centre

Engaging with these kind of statistics and thinking in this way, however, always seems, to me at least, to court a kind of counter-factual approach to the individual narratives of the students involved. The nature of time and space dictates that we can never know precisely which factors lead us to our ultimate destinations. It’s for this reason I would prefer to focus on the individual narratives of some of the students in my care to illustrate how schools like Mayfield challenge stereotypes rather than rely too heavily on statistical data. 

Take for example one of our aspiring Vets, now studying Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge, who was able to combine her interest in science with her artistic ability by producing an A Level Ceramics project that evolved from scientific drawings of insects and flowers. Or how about another enterprising student who set up her own ceramics designing business and got straight onto a Fine Art degree without needing to take a Foundation year and is still growing her online business at university? Or one of our students who is now studying Natural Sciences at Cambridge but who also spent her break and lunch times supporting Year 7 and 8 students with their Maths homework. 

These are just some examples from this year’s Upper Sixth cohort and I suppose what I’m trying to illustrate by briefly sketching their aspirations and achievements is where the freedom and breadth of an educational experience afforded by a school like Mayfield can lead. I can’t tell you for sure if it’s because the girls are in a single-sex environment; I can only report what I can see happening here, and it’s dynamic, empowering and exciting to witness. 

In this sense then, the higher uptake of STEM subjects I referred to at the start is, rather than being an end in itself, instead a wonderful by-product of an atmosphere that fosters independence of thought, confidence and a can-do attitude that makes for outstanding students and ultimately fulfilled and happy adults.