The quest for perfection is piling too much pressure on teenage girls, according to the head teacher of a leading Catholic independent school.
Antonia Beary, head of St Leonards-Mayfield School in East Sussex, says recent research, which shows that British girls aged 15-19 compete with middle-aged men in stress terms, is indicative of how the education system has lost sight of the humanity of students as schools battle to top the league tables.
In an article on the school website, Ms Beary said teenagers, particularly girls, put themselves under immense pressure to be “perfect”, and this combined with the fear of failing to live up to expectations placed upon them could prove detrimental to their mental and emotional wellbeing.
“As an adult it is easy to dismiss adolescent worries, but as the alarming increasing in uptake of mental health services amongst teenagers proves, we need to take their concerns seriously,” she said.
Believing confidence was key, Ms Beary said: “Regardless of ability, a lack of confidence can hold pupils back; a fear of failure can prevent even the brightest pupil from challenging herself and achieving the grades of which she is capable.”
Girls had to be prepared to cope with failure as well as with success; pastoral care was crucial, and this was an area where single-sex schools were able to shine, wrote the head teacher.
“A woman in today’s world is expected to balance many roles, the women of tomorrow even more so. As such, it is our duty to furnish them with the tools they will need to succeed in life after academia: independence, resilience, confidence, leadership, integrity, courage and ambition – qualities which cannot be learnt in books, nor measured in examinations, but which should be nurtured and developed by the right school environment,” she said.