28/12/2012 04:40 GMT

Girls 'Still Being Taught To Put Raising Children Ahead Of Their Own Ambitions'

A generation of girls is still being brought up to believe that raising children is more important than their own ambitions, a leading headmistress warned on Friday.

Young women need to learn that they have options in life, and should be free to make decisions, according to Hilary French.

French, the incoming president of the Girls' Schools Association, said it is still the case that society sees women as the ones who will take charge of childcare.

In her first interview as president, she told the Press Association that her school, Central Newcastle High School, regularly runs a course for students teaching entrepreneurial and leadership skills, which is addressed by business leaders and entrepreneurs.

"Eighteen months ago, one of the young entrepreneurs, a lady, dared to say that she had probably put her business ahead of her son, and the sharp intake of breath from all of the girls was audible.

"They were all absolutely shocked, so yes, we are still creating a generation of girls who think that the whole idea of looking after children is really the most important thing, once you have a child.

"And who's to say? That's a whole ethical, moral argument, isn't it? And it's a very, very personal decision.

"But, what's maybe less personal, and maybe more incumbent on us as leaders in girls' schools, is to try and get girls to see that it is a decision, and that there are options, and that it's not wrong, and that's where society needs to come into play as well.

"It's not wrong to make a particular decision, whatever it is."

French said it is the responsibility of girls' schools to help their pupils to "be strong in making decisions, and secure in the rightness of the decision that they have made".

She added it is "probably still the assumption" that women will deal with childcare.

"There has been an increase in the number of house-husbands, but the very fact that it is still newsworthy means it's not accepted as the norm. I think there's a long way to go before there's total equality in that area."

It is well-known that more girls are going to university and are achieving a great deal, French said.

But she added: "We do still expect women to be at the core of the relationship, the homemaker, the person who brings up children and thinks about what everyone's going to eat every day. It's still, I think, unusual to find a man doing that."

French said that while men are still often seen as the ones that will go to work and have a career, she was also "quite struck" that today's young men are "very caring and do want to have children and do have an affinity with children".

In today's modern society and workplace it is vital that girls are aware that "soft skills" are very important, she warned.

"Yes, you need your exam results, you need your degree, but it's a passport for opening a door, getting through a door, and then when you are actually working, there's so many other things out there in society that you need, which is why it's so good that girls' schools, really good schools, and universities do so much more than teach the subjects, teach facts.

"It's so much more than sitting in front of a computer, it's developing all of those other skills."

French also raised concerns about the Government's plans to scrap GCSEs and replace them with new English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs) in core academic subjects.

Under the proposals, EBCs in English, maths and science would be introduced in autumn 2015, with the first exams taken in 2017.

EBCs in history, geography and foreign languages would be brought in at a later date.

French suggested that EBCs could "make a failing system more complicated and possibly more prone to absolute collapse in the end".

She said pupils should take an exam at 16, and should not be allowed to sit more than eight or nine subjects.

There has been a decline in standards in recent years, Mrs French said, adding that she agrees with the main principles of the Government's plans "to make the system more rigorous and fit for purpose".

But she added: "It looks like it's going to become extremely prescriptive, it's not going to suit a huge proportion of children, because if you expect everybody to do a level which includes everybody, it's going to have to be a fairly high baseline."