Whether they want to grow up to be a quantum physicist, public accountant, game designer, our nation’s prime minister, or the Secretary General of the United Nations, we want our girls to leave Stuartholme knowing that nothing can stand in their way. We want them to believe that they have the skills, attributes, knowledge and tenacity to confidently and courageously pursue opportunities despite hurdles and setbacks.
Stuartholme is a woman-centric environment where girls are nurtured, challenged and supported to participate, collaborate, think critically and achieve. This is the advantage of a girls’ school – girls’ schools specialise in girls. They tailor every aspect of teaching and learning to girls, to developing their self-efficacy, growing their leadership potential and empowering them with the skills and confidence to learn, experiment and grow.
Girls’ schools facilitate leadership because they encourage girls to compete, lead and take risks, skills which are advantageous for careers and leadership. An Australian study exploring the leadership attitudes of girls in girls’ schools showed that the girls believed their single-sex school was teaching them to be a strong, independent leader (Archard, 2012). Stuartholme invests in student leadership development through the provision of formal and informal opportunities. A Student Representative Council, led by the Principal, gives students in Years 7 to 12 a voice within a formal structure. Wellness Ambassadors in Year 9, Green and Blue Ribbons in Years 10 and 11, Big Sisters, Environmental Leaders, Science Ambassadors and the Liturgy Committee are just some of the numerous leadership opportunities for girls before they reach their senior year. A dedicated leadership program in Year 11 culminates in the selection of a Cor Unum Committee and Year 12 leadership captains and committees who lead the student body with confidence, warmth and humour.
Girls’ schools also encourage girls to use their voice, to advocate and to debate (Tully & Jacobs, 2010). A survey in the United States found that nearly 87% of girls’ school students feel their opinions are respected compared to 58% of girls at co-ed schools (www.ncgs.org/advocacy/why-girls-schools/). Stuartholme’s curriculum supports girls to be informed and supports them to express their view. Subjects such as Study of Religion, English, History and the Sciences allow girls to debate historical and contemporary social and ethical issues, to listen to others’ opinions and to form considered, reasoned arguments. The Justice, Peace Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Committee plans and supports social justice, advocacy and outreach programs, to enrich students’ spiritual growth and understanding of their mission of service which supports the Sacred Heart charism and ethos. Stuartholme’s strong results in debating, including last year’s successes in QDU Debating Championships and Brisbane Girls Debating Association competitions, reinforces that Stuartholme girls have not only the confidence but the skills to use their voices and be heard.
Research also shows that girls’ schools encourage girls to participate in male dominated subjects, including STEM. A 2017 Monash University study found that girls at single-sex schools were more likely than girls in co-ed schools to study chemistry, physics and high level mathematics (Forgasz & Leder, 2017). At Stuartholme, girls are encouraged to pursue STEM opportunities, both within and outside of the classroom. Our girls are given access to the full suite of senior mathematics and science subjects and, with the support of Stuartholme’s Leaders of Learning and Director of Enrichment, actively pursue engage in STEM opportunities. Students participate in university-hosted competitions and workshops as well as presentations where Australia’s leading scientists, mathematicians and tech companies reflect on ways students can shape the future.
US researchers also found that female students from single-sex schools are more likely to develop confidence and competitiveness (Laury, Lee and Schnier 2019) and are more likely to emerge from school willing to take risks, ask questions, make mistakes. Recognising that these are vital skills for success in the 21st century, Stuartholme facilities environments where girls can problem-solve, make mistakes and develop solutions, resulting in improved self-efficacy. Our pedagogical focus, Cultures of Thinking, is built around developing students’ thinking skills and ensuring our curriculum is underpinned by questioning, challenging, justifying and critical and creative thinking. Stuartholme’s emphasis on a deep respect for intellectual values ensures students are also supported to engage in thinking competitions outside of the classroom. This year four of our Year 9 students competed in the Future Problem Solvers International Final in the United States. Our Year 8s also had success in the World Scholars’ Cup, qualifying for the Global Round in Sydney.
Researchers from UCLA concluded that when compared to their female peers at co-ed schools, not only do girls’ school graduates have stronger academic skills and engagement, they demonstrate higher levels of cultural competency, stronger community involvement and increased political engagement (Righers, Lim and King 2018). Stuartholme’s Heart in Action program, based on this year’s focus goal ‘A social awareness that impels to action’, ensures students and staff build their understanding of justice issues and engage in service and advocacy, both in our own community and in communities overseas. In the July holidays, a number of our staff and students will head to far north Queensland to participate in an immersion experience to Aboriginal communities and homelands.
It is clear that there are many positive effects of single sex schooling, particularly for girls. Girls benefit where they are free from traditional gender stereotypes, where they are empowered to behave in competitive ways and where they are free to pursue academic excellence in any area they choose. Stuartholme has a long history of providing, and will continue to provide, an environment where girls are encouraged, empowered and supported to be the best they can be.