Benefits of a Walford Education for Girls and Young Women

Walford Anglican School for Girls is a school designed intentionally for girls and young women. It was founded in 1893 by a pioneering suffragette and entrepreneur—Miss Lydia Adamson—who aimed to educate girls in ways beyond the gendered practices of education of the time. Miss Adamson taught her students French, Latin, mathematics, botany and physiology, introducing them to the world of science with her microscope. In 1917, the School motto Virtute et Veritate was developed. It was described in the 1917 School magazine as “by moral courage and truthfulness – the spirit in which all Walford girls are called upon to tackle the problems and difficulties of life, both at school and in the after days.” The themes of girls and women in STEM, and girls and women of courage and principle, are golden threads that have woven through the history of our school since its inception.

While we might feel like gender should not be a barrier to success in 2023, the fact is that girls and women remain disadvantaged. This year, Australia’s national gender pay gap is 13.3%, with the average weekly full-time earnings of a woman in Australia $253.50 lower per week than the equivalent for men. The recently released United Nations Gender Social Norms Index reveals that gender biases remain a global issue. The Index report states that:

  • Almost nine out of ten men and women worldwide still report holding gender biases against women.
  • Nearly half the world’s people believe that men make better political leaders than women do.
  • Two out of five people believe that men make better business executives than women do.
  • The share of heads of state or government who are women has remained around 10% worldwide since 1995.
  • Women hold just over a quarter of parliament seats globally.
  • Women leaders are often judged more harshly than their male counterparts.

These biases exist across regions, income levels and cultures, and are deeply embedded in society.

In the Australian context, a recently-released research report by the Liptember Foundation found that approximately 1 in 2 Australian women today are experiencing mental health issues, with the five most prevalent being depression (45%), anxiety and generalised anxiety disorders (44%), body image issues (34%), psychological distress (16%), and post-traumatic stress disorder (14%).

Single sex girls’ schools such as Walford are an antidote that can counteract existing gender biases and the persistent challenges facing girls and young women. Benefits for girls of single-sex education include better mental health, more confident sense of self, greater life satisfaction, higher academic results, and greater participation and success in subjects such as advanced mathematics, science, and robotics. A 2020 analysis of Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) data from 2015-2018 found that girls at single sex schools outperformed those at co-educational schools, including in all academic measures of science, mathematics and literacy. It additionally found that classrooms in all-girls schools are less disruptive, leading to more positive and productive learning environments, and that girls-only classes help diminish gender stereotypes and enhance the self-assurance and self-confidence of girls. These research findings affirm what we see each day at Walford: that girls in a single-sex environment are provided a safe, supportive, and inclusive space to thrive.

At Walford, gendered assumptions and pressures are stripped away, allowing our students to flourish, to challenge themselves, and to build sisterhood solidarity with their peers who cheer them on and celebrate their successes. Our students tell us that they feel confident to participate in a range of subjects, activities and experiences. For Walford students, leadership, advocacy and ambition are normalised, fostered and celebrated. Students are supported throughout their schooling by expert teachers committed to girls’ education. They leave their school years having experienced success and having participated fully in rigorous learning in an environment of high care and high expectations. They have been seen, heard, known and valued for who they are, and supported to reach for and beyond the perceived limits of their potential.

Student agency and autonomy are cornerstones of the Walford student experience. This includes opportunities from Early Learning to Year 12 for students to be owners and co-designers of their learning. Initiatives such as design thinking in the Junior School, Walford’s Festival of Ideas, exciting real-world career-taster Year 10 elective subjects, and our High Performance Academy for athletes, are examples of the varied opportunities Walford students have to be educated in an environment without gender bias and in which a girl or young woman can be whoever she aims to be, in ways that best suits her.

A significant number of our Walford graduates go on to careers in science, engineering, mathematics, medicine and law. Our Old Scholars are exemplars of their Walford education, going out into the world to be the change they want to see. They tell us the confidence they gained from their Walford education, their gratitude for the opportunities they experienced, the values and skills they have taken out into the world, and the lifelong friendships they maintain from their school years.

All at Walford live our vision to be a flourishing, connected learning community that enables each student to achieve her best, her way. Walford continues to provide outstanding academic education and pastoral care to support girls and young women to live as compassionate and courageous women who live with meaning, purpose and principle, during and beyond their school years.

Dr Deborah Netolicky