Schools must provide a 'moral compass' for young girls, leading headmistress says

Camilla Turner
Parents are under greater strain to provide an ethical framework for their daughters - © ONOKY - Photononstop / Alamy

It is now up to schools to provide a “moral compass” for young girls, as parents are no longer bringing up their children with traditional values, a leading headmistress has said.

Hilary French, headmistress of Newcastle High School for Girls, said that today’s teenagers are lacking a “homespun common sense approach”, adding that schools must “step in for the benefit of the girls”.

She explained how a number of changes in society - including the breakdown of the extended family network and the waning influence of the Church - have led to a decline in moral authorities that influence girls as they grow up.

This means parents are under greater strain to provide an ethical framework for their daughters, which they are often unable to do since they are struggling to cope with the same cultural pressures themselves.

Hilary French, headmistress of Newcastle High School for Girls Credit: RYAN EDY

“If you’re a young parent you’re under as much  pressure as teenagers are nowadays in terms of trying to keep up, balancing, juggling, all these sorts of things. It is very hard,” Mrs French told The Sunday Telegraph.

Old fashioned traditional values have been watered down and have been lost in some cases

Hilary French, headmistress of Newcastle High School for Girls

“The extended family of aunts, grandparents and great grandparents which you tend to see in Europe more is split up in our country. Partly because our lives are so busy and partly because people move around so much.

“There are a lot of parents now who don't have a benefit of advice from previous generations and can’t rely on them for help.”

Old fashioned traditional values have been watered down and have been lost in some cases

Hilary French, headmistress of Newcastle High School for Girls

Mrs French, who is a former president of the Girls’ School Association, a group of the most prestigious girls’ schools in the country, added that the Church is another “steadying influence” that has now declined.

“You used to have quite solid traditional [messages] coming to you from those sorts of institutions, attitudes and ways you will treat people and so on,” she said. “They provided a really solid foundation for building on a person’s character.

“But they’ve almost been drowned out by everything that comes to you through Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, the Kardashians, all that kind of stuff.

“With growth of technology and impact of media, old fashioned traditional values have been watered down and have been lost in some cases. Just having that home spun common sense approach is almost missing now.”

Kim Kardashian attends the Harper's BAZAAR 'Icons by Carine Roitfeld' party at The Plaza Hotel Credit:  Charles Sykes

She said that it is now up to schools to rise to the challenge of instilling young women with a sense of morality.

“Somebody needs to be a moral compass in our society,” she said, adding that parents often look to schools for advice.

“Obviously, we are experts in educating girls, in educating children,” she said. “Schools have probably always done that but it is even more important nowadays.

“Even if they’re not explicitly saying it, I think all schools will be trying to instill core traditional values into children. That’s what teaching and education is all about, when you boil it all down.”

Mrs French, who is chair of Girls’ Day School Trust heads’ committee, said urged parents to consider the consequences of allowing their children unfettered use of technology and social media.

Traditional moral influences have been "drowned out" by Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, says headmistress Credit:  LOIC VENANCE

“We all think technology is fantastic but actually unintended consequences are things we need to think about,” she said. “We almost have a broken generation and nobody has intended that to happen, but we need to act.

“All the evidence that is coming to us about the pressure that young people are feeling, the insecurities.

“They are going to play out unless we do something to pull back and provide a structure, a solid foundation for the young people on which they can build really successful lives.”

Earlier this week, a study showed that the majority schoolchildren would be happy if social media did not exist, as more than half have experienced abuse or had their confidence knocked by websites.

The survey of 5,000 students at schools in England was undertaken by Digital Awareness UK on behalf of the the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC).

A total of 57 per cent said they had received abusive comments online, 56 per cent admitted to being on the edge of addiction, and 52 per cent said social media makes them feel less confident about how they look or how interesting their life is.

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