Home   News   Article

Subscribe Now

Breaking barriers: Girls’ schools excel in preparing students for competitive degree courses





From A-level choices and career guidance free from gender stereotyping to tailored education for academic success, an all-girls’ education equips young female students with the tools to successfully apply to competitive university courses.

Girls’ schools, such as St Mary’s School, Cambridge, equip young female students with the tools to successfully apply to competitive university courses Pictures: St Mary’s School
Girls’ schools, such as St Mary’s School, Cambridge, equip young female students with the tools to successfully apply to competitive university courses Pictures: St Mary’s School

In an age where gender distinctions are increasingly blurred, the need for single-sex education is being questioned. However, while misogyny within the education system and workplace persists, the role of all-girls’ schools is as important as ever.

Women only account for 27 per cent of the STEM workforce in the UK, but given the opportunity to lead can make valuable contributions to these industries. This begins with education. Engineering and computer science courses receive four times as many male applicants. The reasons for this include gender stereotyping (in subject choices and career advice), lack of confidence among female students and less academic success in male-dominated subjects. Girls’ schools are actively tackling this issue by empowering girls to challenge themselves and gender stereotypes, especially when applying to university.

St Mary’s School, Cambridge - the only girls school in Cambridgeshire - provides a learning environment with no glass ceiling for girls because of their gender.

There is a prevalent gender gap in A-level choices at co-educational schools. In 2021, The Education Data Lab found subjects such as computer science, physics, other sciences, mathematics, further mathematics, design and technology, economics, and business studies were dominated by boys. The Girls’ School Association (GSA) says gender stereotyping in schools has a ‘devastating impact’ on girls’ academic attitudes and achievements. This tendency for girls in co-educational schools to steer away from STEM subjects limits their career paths by preventing them from applying to competitive university courses that appear to be ‘for boys.’

Girls’ schools, such as St Mary’s School, Cambridge, equip young female students with the tools to successfully apply to competitive university courses. Picture: St Mary’s School
Girls’ schools, such as St Mary’s School, Cambridge, equip young female students with the tools to successfully apply to competitive university courses. Picture: St Mary’s School

However, students at GSA schools, like St Mary’s in Cambridge, are 75 per cent more likely to study mathematics, 70 per cent more likely to study chemistry and 2.5 times more likely to study physics at A-level. For example, in 2019, 35.9 per cent of St Mary’s students chose biology and 28.2 per cent chose chemistry, compared to 9.9 per cent and 7.2 per cent of students nationally, respectively. As well as this, 43 per cent studied maths A-level compared to only 8.1 per cent of girls nationally.

This is unique to single-sex education because girls’ school graduates are six times more likely to consider undertaking further education in mathematics, science, and technology compared to girls who attend co-educational schools.

Students at all-girls’ schools not only have the freedom to dictate their academic passions outside of gendered conditioning, but also achieve higher levels of academic success.

The GSA found that, on average, girls achieve higher GCSE grades in every subject when they do not share their classroom with boys. In English and mathematics this difference was an entire grade higher.

Girls’ schools, such as St Mary’s School, Cambridge, equip young female students with the tools to successfully apply to competitive university courses. Picture: St Mary’s School
Girls’ schools, such as St Mary’s School, Cambridge, equip young female students with the tools to successfully apply to competitive university courses. Picture: St Mary’s School

This trend is a direct correlation to the unique philosophy in an all-girl environment. Single sex education is more than an organisational structure; it is woven into every part of school life.

A St Mary’s student stated: “This style of teaching means we are more likely to take risks and are not afraid to get things wrong.”

Students’ confidence is allowed to thrive without the fear of looking stupid in front of a boy. This translates into academic success. Girls do not play a supporting role at St Mary’s. Students are encouraged to put themselves forward for leadership positions which include scholars, prefects, club and society committee members, sports captains, coaches and umpires. Not only does this develop their leadership skills and sense of responsibility, but these positions also give peers and younger students female role models to look up to.

Learn more about the benefits of girls’ schools at stmaryscambridge.co.uk.

This article was written for St Mary’s School, Cambridge by alumna Nicole Taylor.



This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More