LinkedIn It's always alarming when you're informed that your early life was a disadvantaged one. That, despite your middle-class upbringing and your nice house and your private education, you were in fact being denied something all along. The thing I was denied — that has apparently affected me greatly — is that I didn't sit next to a boy in double maths.
This is all according to the headteacher of Brighton College, Richard Cairns, who has decided that girls educated in all-girls schools are put at a "huge disadvantage" compared with girls in co-ed schools. Cairns then argues that a co-ed educational environment circumvents the need for the stifling, outdated hierarchies single-sex schools encourage.
The one success I do accredit to my all-girls school education is that, really, I quite like myself I have lived a peculiarly single-sex life. Educated in an all-girls primary and secondary school in Ireland, it's hard to defend the various "outdated" notions that I experienced.
Our teachers smiled fondly at our 4in-high court shoes, we were allowed to pick Home Ec as our "science" subject and were permitted to get our skirt lengths altered as long as the hem didn't show. In the years since leaving my secondary school, I have heard tales of girls being "socialised" with a nearby boarding school via the medium of ballroom dancing classes. If Richard Cairns' article had been presented to me at 15, the year I cried feverishly to be allowed to join one of the city's few co-ed schools, I would have printed it off and nailed it, Diet of Worms-style, to my parents' bedroom door.
I'm deeply grateful that I got the all-girls education that I did. This would be an easier notion to defend if I were a massive success: None of these things are true. I'm probably no more or less of a technical "success" than my co-ed counterparts. The one success I do accredit to my all-girls school education is that, really, I quite like myself.
My single-sex education allowed me to be a gobby class clown where, in a co-ed environment, that role would have been taken by a much gobbier boy. There were no boys around to accuse me of being a lesbian during my brief goth phase — an enquiry many of my friends seemed to have experienced. When I brought my guitar on a school trip, I felt comfortable playing it on my bunk bed, never terrified that someone was going to wrench it away from me or suggest I couldn't play it as well as they could.
I had the freedom to be myself, to try things out and go through odd little phases because, truly, I wasn't really that afraid of anyone. A constant, electro-magnetic field of weirdness perpetuated in my classroom. Cultish fascinations popped up constantly, including the constant attempts to replicate Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights video and the week everyone dared each other to drink pepper???
We watched boys together, more for the fun of group spectating than out of any real interest. When boys started becoming boyfriends, we paraded them around like captured slaves after the sack of a city.
I don't feel like there was a disadvantage to any of this. I would have been a D student wherever I went to school, but I could only become myself — the myself I like living with today — at my outdated, cultish, Catholic all-girls school.