GSA website: Help is just a click away

Girls’ schools have set up a website to reassure parents who are worried about their daughters. Will mums use it?
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The Independent Online

The Girls’ School Association (GSA) is capitalising on its long experience by launching a new website aimed at parents who are bringing up daughters.

Early responses to show that the site has the potential to be a worldwide winner. Five thousand people accessed it in the first three weeks, many from Asia and others from continental Europe and the US, and word is spreading fast. “As far as we know, it is the only site dealing specifically with issues concerning girls,” says Jill Berry, the head of Dame Alice Harpur School, Bedford and president of the GSA.

The site offers articles and guidance on subjects such as the developmental stages of girls, how girls can reach their full potential, eating disorders, bullying, internet safety and relationships. It discusses how to encourage a teenage girl to develop interests, how to help a girl settle at a new school, and what to do about unsuitable friends. Most articles are written by present or former heads.

“The GSA is a tight-knit bunch,” says editor Alison Morris, a former head of Manor House School, Surrey. “We all tend to know each other, and have many years of experience between us. There isn’t a problem that hasn’t passed through our doors over the years, and we know to whom we can turn to deal with different issues.”

The site is responsive to news stories and has turned its attention to anorexia; guidance for single and divorced parents; and the question of whether dyslexia is a myth.

“People can post comments, and we are hoping to draw them in to debate issues,” Morris says. “We want the site to be fully interactive, and a forum where parents can talk to and support each other.” One of the first mothers to contact the site wanted to know where she could buy clothes for her larger daughter, and got suggestions from other parents.

The idea for the site sprang from research commissioned by GSA in 2007 about how parents went about choosing schools for daughters. A thousand parents were asked about this and other issues. They sent back a clear message that they would welcome an advice source on social and educational topics, from questions of body image to personal safety.

Their desire for help reflects an age of mounting parental anxiety, where the confidence of both mothers and fathers can be low and no one seems too sure how to bring up children. Heads of both state and independent schools say they spend more time than ever helping parents with aspects of their children’s education and welfare, and many privately admit astonishment at the high level of support parents now need.

Alison Morris says the site’s resources tap into a well of experience and wisdom, and are intended for all parents, regardless of where they send their children to school. However, as fee-paying schools brace themselves for the effects of recession, the site is also seen as a marketing tool to spread the word on the advantages of independent, single-sex education for girls. It offers help in finding schools, case studies of families who use them, and advice on how to find the fees to pay for them.

Jill Berry says: “Of course, we are championing the cause of girls’ schools, and we wouldn’t want to be dishonest about this. However, we also offer lots of sensible advice from people who really care about girls and who understand the issues about girls’ learning. These issues are not only to do with independent schools, and anyway, girls’ schools are, in themselves, very diverse, including schools of all types, from the highly academic to those catering for pupils with special learning needs.”

The site includes the weekly national newspaper column written by Vicky Tuck, principal of Cheltenham Ladies’ College, and offers Top 10 tips for parents. These include: keep listening; set boundaries; and remember that academic success is only one way of succeeding.