Right of Reply: Joan Clanchy

The former head of North London Collegiate School reacts to criticisms of independent girls schools
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THE MANY jokey bits in Terence Blacker's piece following up Madonna's rumoured choice of school for her daughter ("A few parenting tips for Madonna", in yesterday's Independent) do not provide complete cover for his anxiety in the face of confident women.

His complaints about Cheltenham Ladies College are that the girls are too efficient, speak too clearly, are too assertive and do not have sexual experience young enough. The supporting evidence he gives about daily hockey and hymns, sixth-form dances and girls' pashes is 30 years out of date. The efficiency and confidence the students achieve, which makes him so nervous, comes from work-in-the-community projects, early self- reliance and self-discovery through music, art, drama and learning. There is frequent contact at all stages with local boys schools. Discos are one of many shared activities; they are supervised because all schools accept that as a responsibility.

Cheltenham offers a hugely privileged way of life for 13- to 19-year- olds. Its speciality is to nurture girls' confidence. How necessary this is still is shown by the kind of unreconstructed sexist rubbish that Mr Blacker rattled off yesterday. It is a low trick to accuse girls from such schools of being frigid because efforts are made to dissuade them from early sexual experience. Does he not know that the best fruits are the slow ripening ones not those from hot houses?

Five years ago a BBC film was made about a week's exchange between students from a mixed comprehensive and an independent girls school. The producer seemed to have Mr Blacker's agenda of sneering at bossy girls. But when the week was over the producer quietly filled in an application form for his daughter.