Helping girls overcome a fear of failure

By Alison Sefton, Norwich High School for Girls.
Tenacity is about never giving up; about overcoming failure with determination and perseverance. It is a skill that would serve any young person well.
Published in UK Director Magazines Summer 2024

Education: Alison Sefton, Norwich High School for Girls

We are experts in educating girls; we know their needs and traits and how they like to work. Often, girls are naturally perfectionists and will struggle with situations where they might not have the answer or might make a mistake.

In the world of business, many will fail before they succeed. Responding to failure with tenacity and confidence is a pattern often seen in the story of successful entrepreneurs.

Our academic approach helps girls understand that mistakes are a normal part of learning. Thanks to our classroom culture, pupils feel comfortable to try new things and get involved in the classroom – but they are also allowed to be wrong. We provide the space for them to find their voice, be seen and heard and know they are respected. By focusing on approach, we are having a broader impact as girls can nurture their own individual interests and strengths.

“Every girl is valued and given the chance to contribute. Effort and determination are commended over natural ability. Girls are given space and a safe environment to be curious and try new things without judgement or fear of failure.” Year 4 Norwich High School for Girls parent.

Future ready

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The ability to learn independently, challenge ideas, and bring new perspectives will enable our girls to respond positively to whatever they face – not only through Early Years, Prep, Senior School, and into Sixth Form, but also in life beyond school. We work to enhance our students’ approach to learning by focusing on the competencies demanded by the changing world of work, while also supporting students’ wellbeing. Students are encouraged to work on skills, including adaptability, and to be visionary.

The approach is working, as seen in statistics from the recent Girls Day School Trust (GDST) Girls’ Futures Report, which surveyed 5,000 girls in state and independent schools and academies across the UK. The aim was to understand what matters most to girls today and how they feel about what lies ahead – in both their personal and professional lives.

The research found that, in comparison to girls at other schools across the UK, GDST students were more passionate about pursuing leadership positions, more comfortable speaking out and expressing their views, and significantly less likely to feel that being a girl holds them back from participating in subjects at school.

The evidence demonstrates that GDST girls leave our schools feeling more prepared to face their future. They have the confidence to take the lead when it comes to pursuing their ambitions, whether that’s being their own boss, following a non-traditional career path, or taking risks to achieve their dreams. They are more able to look after their physical and mental wellbeing – an important reflection of the all-round experience girls have in a GDST environment throughout the school day. 

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Statistics from the GDST Girls’ Futures Report:

  • 69% of girls at GDST schools feel comfortable taking risks at age nine, compared to 48% of girls in non-GDST schools.
  • Only 6% of girls at GDST schools avoid certain activities because of their gender at age nine, compared to 37% of girls in non-GDST schools.
  • Only 5% of girls at GDST schools feel negatively about the future at age nine, compared to 35% of girls in non-GDST schools.

Nationally and at GDST schools, girls’ confidence dips from age 14, but this is more likely to be regained at GDST schools. As seen in the Girls’ Futures Report results, 66% of GDST girls across all age groups agree they are comfortable taking risks, compared to 52% of non-GDST girls.

“The thing I value most is that my daughter is happy at school, that you help her believe in herself and to believe that anything is possible. As a parent, this is all I can wish for. Thank you!” Year 12 Norwich High School for Girls parent.

Vital skills

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“We praise students for ‘having a go’, taking risks and thinking outside the box. Our ‘active’ approach to learning supports students who might find they do not immediately excel in terms of marks. It also challenges students who might achieve high academic grades but lack other vital learning attributes, such as the visionary ability to play with ideas. The development of skills such as adaptability, technological competence, and independence will be critical to our students’ future employability,” says Matt Bradshaw, head of history and politics and Future Schools project lead at Norwich High School for Girls.

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Alison Sefton is Head of Norwich High School for Girls

T: 01603 453265
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