“Rubbish. There should be a woman to look up to. There are lots of inspiring women out there.” This was the verdict of my ten year old daughter when asked what she thought of the news that a leading girls’ school is to have a man at the helm once its current headmistress departs. To my amazement, her father felt the same way.
My usually strident elder daughter disagreed. Her opinion, expressed with a teen shrug, was “What’s the problem if he’s the best person for the job? Is he clever?”
I was thrilled because I agree. When Felicity Lusk moved from Oxford High School for Girls to become the first female head of a boys’ public school, comedian David Mitchell wrote in the Guardian, “There are bound to have been gifted male candidates, and the governors would have had a quieter life if they’d appointed one of them, so I’m forced to the conclusion that Lusk was picked because they thought she was the best person for the job and institutional sexism be damned.”
And when a girls’ school is ready to have a male headmaster perhaps it's much the same. It is a sign of confidence that a girls’ school does not think it needs a female figurehead to show what women can be in the world – a man will do just as well, as long as he believes in, inspires and supports his pupils’ potential.
What might be the advantages of a male Head? Is the role model parents want for their daughters “you can fight any battle you want” or "you can be anything"? Perhaps someone who has possibly never faced so many "-isms" (as long has he truly understands the reality of the challenges of gender equality) could have a tip or two up his sleeve for succeeding beyond it.
Men willing to invest their professional lives in girls
Just as women such as Helen Pike at all-boys Magdalen College School and Susan Faulkner at Bolton School Junior Boys’ School feel able to say that they are the right person at the right time, so Paul Burke of NYC's all-girls Nightingale-Bamford School is confident about the role he can play in a girls’ school, stating on the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools website that “girls need to know there are men, as well as women, who are so invested in their success they are willing to dedicate their professional lives to them.”
And what do all these teachers have in common? It is a far stronger thread than simply gender. They believe in single-sex education.
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More girls' schools with male heads:
Streatham & Clapham High School (GDST), London - both the senior and junior schools currently have male heads
Holy Cross School, New Malden, Surrey - a mainstream state senior school
Pembridge Hall School, Notting Hill, London - a prep school
St Margaret’s School, Hampstead, London - an independent school for girls aged 4 to 16 years
St Michael’s Catholic Grammar, Finchley, London - a state senior school (with boys in the sixth form)