30 Shiphay Lane, Torquay TQ2 7DY
E: admin@tggsacademy.org
T: 01803 613215

Y7-11 Absence: 01803 653 750

South West Secondary
School of the Year 2019

30 Shiphay Lane, Torquay TQ2 7DY
E: admin@tggsacademy.org   T: 01803 613215
Y7-11 Absence Line: 01803 653 750

South West Secondary School of the Year 2019

The Next 100 Years

How can we best prepare our girls for the future?


The approach of our centenary year has led me to reflect on the past 100 years of education at Torquay Girls’ Grammar school and to ponder the question: ‘How can we best prepare our girls for the future?’


Our archive is awash with pictures from the first half of the last century. The sepia images portray girls in traditional poses; formal class portraits; hockey team snapshots and prefect line-ups. The overriding impression is one of restraint, compliance and uniformity. These girls belonged to a very different world, a world utterly incomprehensible to our current cohort. The serious and contained young ladies staring out of these pictures compare markedly with the Y13 girls who collect their A level results. The modern-day equivalents are all style and emotion. There were shrieks and tears as their exam results provided them with their passport to University. The joy of success was mixed with nervous anticipation of the next step on the hopeful road to a glittering future.


Wardrobe contents aside, the freedom to choose and shape their careers is the striking difference between the cohorts. Few of their early predecessors were encouraged much beyond secretarial or caring horizons, even fewer went to University. The change in the attitude to women in the workplace, still a work in progress, has been substantial and welcome.


However this puts our teenage girls are under far greater pressure than past generations.  The expectation of a successful career has added to the increasing pressure they feel from a world of rampant consumerism and highly sexualized pop/cyber culture. It’s a world where they must continually strive for physical perfection and stunning success on all fronts. There is an increasing need for us to care for the girls unable to meet these insistent demands.


We have witnessed a marked rise in cases of depression, stress and anxiety over the past few years and this has been internet-fuelled. Our teenage girls are the first generation to have lived their lives fully in a digital age. They have had no escape from the celebrity cyber-culture constantly reminding them of the seemingly unobtainable expectations of society. They have had no relief from the relentless digital stream of peer judgement. 


They no longer find shelter from the storm of teenage life in traditional anchors like place or faith. The rise of the BRIC nations has shifted the old world order and they are just as likely to compete with girls in Delhi as they are with girls in Devon. Many lack the direction and stability that faith can provide. Thanks to their parents, even the weather appears to be changing.


From an early age, our girls find themselves in a fast paced, ever-changing and unforgiving jungle which can so easily chew them up and spit them out. The imminent arrival of our new Year 7, bright eyed and bushy tailed, strengthens our resolve to avoid this.


Our immediate task is to prepare our girls for the reality of the world they live in and the foundation of our strategy is to develop within them our 8 learning skills. These are the skills we believe will enable them to be successful whatever life they choose to lead. Skills such as concentration, resilience and the ability to manage their emotions.


Attention spans have been slashed so, unlike their predecessors, our girls struggle to cope without incessant stimulation. Hence we try to teach them how to slow down, to concentrate and sustain their attention in an attempt to counteract the flitting superficiality of modern media. This can be as simple as getting them to read silently in registration for twenty minutes or to sit still in their seats.


Our girls alternate between phases of sloth-like inertia and hyperactivity which is reflected in their posture. Few would earn a ‘deportment band’ described by some returning old girls as a sort of sash awarded to girls who were seen to consistently stand up straight, without slouching, over a two year period!



They also need to learn how to cope with failure as they bruise easily. Our aim is to get them to be resilient to regard setbacks as temporary and as part of the learning process. It is crucial they avoid responding virally, so that one small setback, in one small area of their lives, like a poor grade for a History essay does not infect them globally. There is a need for them to develop grit, to cope with things that actively make them want to give up.


They must learn to manage their emotions and the inevitable stress they will encounter because uncontrolled these will divert, hinder and betray their development. Consequently we formally teach them coping strategies such as; better organisation and planning; the ability to ignore the things they cannot control, the use of relaxation techniques and the benefits of regular laughter.


In the past, girls could earn a detention for actions as innocuous as buying an ice cream whilst in school uniform or for taking their hat off on the bus! It is unlikely that our current girls or indeed their parents would accept these sorts of rules and we certainly would not want to enforce them (we would be overwhelmed!) However, because we expect them to consider others they must exhibit good behaviour and manners. This is done as collaboratively as possible. If, for example, they can put forward a polite, timely, cogent and believable excuse for why they have not done their homework and this accompanied by a plan for resolution, then we can do business. I am sure this is not a freedom afforded their predecessors.  The skill, for them, is to recognise the behaviours and sanctions not up for debate and that sometimes questioning is inappropriate. In terms of learning however, it most certainly is not. We do not want to produce regurgitating robots so we encourage them to question how things are and to imagine how things could be. Taking risks, being creative and innovative are all encouraged. We need to create an environment where it is safe to fail otherwise they will be risk adverse forever.


We want our girls to be the leaders of tomorrow whether that’s leading a multi-national company, managing a Health-Care trust or directing the village drama production. Providing leadership opportunities is a start but it’s not enough. They need to study and practise the art of leadership. We have recently developed a bespoke leadership course for our older girls. They have listened to advice from successful business women, they have practised networking with high powered executives, they have debated leadership styles at breakfast meetings and a particular hardy bunch survived the ‘bottom field assault course’ at the Royal Marines training centre at Lympstone. They have the skills, they have the ability but unlike boys, they often get hung up on the things they cannot do rather than the things that they can. We therefore encourage them to heed the advice of Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, by ‘leaning in’ a bit more and put themselves forward to lead.


The 8 skills are underpinned by the nurturing of a strong work ethic. We are pains to point out that that the world owes them nothing, that it is routinely unfair and that working hard rather than hoping for a lottery win is the best way to improve their life chances.


We hope they will use the 8 skills to fulfil the aims of our school; to achieve academic excellence; to develop into rounded, balanced individuals and to go on to make a positive contribution to their community.


Academic excellence is a by-product of skill development and contrary to popular belief is not the sole objective of a school like ours.


There is no doubt that the current experience at Torquay Girls’ is a vast improvement on the past, but proper care and attention must be taken to our prepare our girls for a hostile world. We hope that if they leave with the right skills, then they will have the chance to thrive.


Dr Nick Smith


Torquay Girls’ Grammar School

August 2014

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