Charting the future for girls will save the world

Following a year in the life of a headteacher, a school, its pupils and parents, Clarissa Farr’s new book paints a picture of what education is all about.

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Autumn 2019 issue of Relocate magazine
This article is taken from the latest issue of Relocate magazine – the must read for HR, global managers and relocation professionals.
Clarissa Farr is an expert in education and leadership. As High Mistress of St Paul’s Girls’ School for 11 years, she led one of the country’s top academic schools. In her new book, The Making of Her, she provides insights not only about how to bring out the best in girls to flourish in the modern competitive world, but also about building the rootedness and grounded sense of self confidence and community that is instantly recognisable in so many of the best schools across the private, international and state sector.

A global perspective

The Making of Her is an insightful and entertaining read for a global audience, whether you are an aspiring school head in the UK, an admissions manager in a world-class international school in SE Asia, an expatriate parent or an HR director responsible for UK domestic moves and a global workforce.The book follows the calendar of a school year, using Farr's valuable perspective as a school head, daughter and mother. She takes the reader on a tour of the life of a school and shares her reflection on educating and preparing girls, and indeed all students, for adult life. I could clearly hear her voice in my head as I read; depending on your own experience and demographic the tone may vary – sometimes provocative, often humorous, always questioning, surprisingly warm and very human, with a thirst for knowledge and hope for the future.We need more great school leaders, who are inclusive and culturally aware, who are keen to collaborate with other educators and their communities and nurture and recognise the diversity of talent within their pupils from whatever backgrounds.
Relocate Global Guide to Education and Schools in the UK 2019/20
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Education for 21st century adulthood

Farr acknowledges that high-achieving schools often come under attack and that parents don’t help the situation. As she explains in the book, “Our persistent adulation of academic success and snobbery about other intelligences has served to encourage a divided society and entrench an over-simplistic view of what constitutes a good school…“A negative attitude to the private sector, envied for its freedom to innovate and at the same time resented for its perceived divisiveness, has also meant that genuine collaborative working has taken much longer to develop effectively than it might, hindered rather than helped by unrealistic and clumsily applied compulsion from government and the Charity Commission…“We need to think much more carefully about what education consists of, and what will service all our children best as they move into 21st-century adulthood.”As Farr points out, we now hear constantly about the importance of STEM subjects. She reflects that in girls’ schools, the teaching is to such a high standard and the girls are doing so well in them there is no sense that these subjects are really the preserve of boys.

Addressing the gender balance

She understands about marginalising or stereotypical attitudes to women and girls, “Girls schools are important because they anticipate what we hope and believe will be the future for women: breathing the clear blue air of their capability without a thought to limitation born of gender. So while the society in to which young people emerge remains as unequal in its attitudes and opportunities as it still – sadly, shockingly – is, there will continue to be a role for girls’ schools to concentrate on developing resilient, clever, capable young women to take on the pressure and change it.”Farr makes her view clear that alienating men is not going to help us. Men need to feel they have a role and voice, and this was behind the successful initiative Dads4Daughters introduced to St Paul’s. In line with the thoughts of many business leaders and harking back to lessons learned from the financial crisis she calls for more diversity of thinking, “In banking, certainly, but in many other fields where we face factors that are unknown, we need more breadth. This must mean moving from a highly technical, data-driven approach to one that includes the ability to be more intuitive and qualitative. 

Encouraging creativity and lateral thinking

“We need to encourage and value artistic intuition, lateral thinking, creativity, foreign language proficiency or literary-critical thought. Diversity is vital: the critical mind, the probing, searching, restless questioning that comes with arts subjects complements that of the scientific mind’s more linear progression.”
Read more news and views about UK education
The arts, she proclaims, unlock other riches and goes on to explore the benefits of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics), saying, "Put simply, in today’s complex world intuition and creativity are as necessary in making good business decisions as the more logical, scientific mindset. We, therefore, need people trained in the arts, languages and humanities to give that diversity and avoid groupthink which has led to so much poor decision-making in business in recent years. And the arts/science divide is a false one anyway – scientists need imagination, just as literary scholars need a rigorous eye for detail."

How to forge a peaceful, equitable and collaborative future

Farr also tackles internationalism, something particularly pertinent to the Relocate Global readership. Having taught herself in an international school in Hong Kong, she recognises that children educated in an international school or a school which is part of an international group "are provided with many opportunities for collaboration across boundaries and find themselves exposed to different ways of thinking as a normal part of their education".

Read more about international schools – What do global mobility experts need to know?


Making reference to the term ‘glocal’ – meaning local character with a global setting – Farr hits upon some of the same questions to be resolved by many international HR managers, also reconciling cultural patterns with work and daily life. "To broaden cultural respect and understanding must surely be an important dimension for all children in the future, wherever they find themselves at school," she says.She also observes, as employers have, that language skills have tumbled at a time when they are so desperately needed to help work and manage across cultural divides. There is much too, on encouraging the resilience needed to bounce back, and the growth mindset that would serve pupils at university and beyond in the world of work. Lifeworks, as it was called at St Paul's also concentrated on identifying strengths and developing capability. There are also reflections on the sandwich generation and how that might work out for future women and men juggling parenthood and responsibility for elderly relatives.There are many profound observations from this teacher, mother, daughter and education leader. This one also addresses the critics of many schools who are simply striving for excellence. "A school should not be a pressure cooker but a laboratory in which to discover skills, explore new interests, culture values a refined personality. Making mistakes and learning from them will always be an important part of that. Especially, school should be a place where living in community, our fundamental need to nourish and express out being in human relationships, can never be sidelined or replaced…"Above all, schools should be at the centre of the most important debate of all: how to forge a peaceful, equitable and collaborative world in the future. A number of international schools now place the achievement of peace amongst their key educational goals…"With recent, unanticipated changes in the international political landscape making it almost unrecognisable to many, there can never have been a time when this is more important today."

About the author of The Making of Her

Clarissa Farr is an expert in education and leadership. As High Mistress of St Paul’s Girls’ School for 11 years, Farr led one of the country’s top academic schools. She now works in international education. A member of the board of the African Gifted Foundation, which is transforming the lives of African girls in maths and science, Farr is also a Governor of The Royal Ballet School.

For the latest education news, articles and practical advice, see our Education & Schools section

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