TOP girls' schools and their pupils have hit back at comments by a headteacher that pupils at single-sex schools "don't learn to talk to boys".

Richard Cairns, headteacher at Brighton College, said earlier this week that he was "perplexed" that parents were "swayed by outdated notions about girls performing better in single sex schools" and said that they were at a "huge disadvantage" if they "cannot communicate with male colleagues".

But Mr Cairn's views have been condemned by girls' schools and their pupils.

Jennifer Smith, head of Brighton and Hove High School, said: "Mr Cairns’s rather out-of-touch portrayal of women who are educated at single-sex schools, with its heavy reliance on all the old gender stereotypes, bears no resemblance to the pupils who attend our school, nor to our highly successful and socially-articulate alumnae – none of whom ever strike me as being ‘disadvantaged’ by not having had boys to ‘converse’ with in their physics lessons."

Head of Burgess Hill Girls' Kathryn Bell added: "In an all girls environment, everyone is valued as an individual with their own gifts and talents, each and every girl is known for who she is and all are free to be true to themselves."

Apprentice star Bianca Miller, who went to a same-sex school before studying business at the University Sussex, said it all girl's school wasn't like "being in a bubble" and had never held her back.

  1. Bianca Miller

The Argus:

RUNNER-UP of television show The Apprentice Bianca Miller went to the all girls' Sydenham High School  GDST,    before studying business at the University of Sussex

After battling the boys including Lord Alan Sugar in the boardroom she is running her successful hosiery company and does not agree that her single sex education has held her back. 

The 27-year-old businesswoman said: "I think it is wrong to say women can't adapt to situations where there are boys. 

"I've never found I have any difficulty in speaking to a man and holding my own. 

"There weren't any boys in the classroom but it's not just about the classroom it is about family and other interactions. 

"Boys were just one of those things that weren't in school and I think most of my friends would agree they were able to adapt. 

"At school there were girls and work and outside school there were boys in your family and friendship groups. 

"It isn't like being in a bubble or locked in a convent. 

"At school nothing was impossible, we did football and rugby and there wasn't any restriction on what we could do."

2. Dr Frances Saunders

The Argus:

DR FRANCES Saunders was a pupil at Portsmouth High School in the 70s and went on to have a successful career in science and engineering and ended up as chief Executive of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, has just finished her term as president of the Institute of Physics and is a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering. 

She said: "An education at a girls' school certainly was not a disadvantage in my case. 

"I had always had boys in my social circle even though I went to a single sex school.

"Even in those days there were plenty of opportunities to do things outside school hours that brought you into contact with boys – such as science clubs, choirs, drama clubs and debating societies etc.

"I believe this is even more the case now, so girls who attend single sex girls schools are far from being closeted from contact with boys. I never had problems communicating with male colleagues, even when I was starting out. 

"I have rarely found that being female was an obstacle. Indeed sometimes being the only woman in a project or in meeting means that you stand out from the crowd and are therefore remembered by colleagues. 

"The young women coming from the sector are certainly not old fashioned.  

"There is evidence from research done by the Institute of Physics that some co-ed schools can re-enforce gender stereotypes in an unhelpful way so that girls tend not to study physics and maths beyond age 16 and, conversely, boys are not encouraged into arts subjects. " 

3. Rifa Thorpe-Tracey

The Argus:

DIGITAL consultant Rifa Thorpe-Tracey went to an inner London all-girls' comprehensive - followed by a mixed sex college. 

She has gone on to become an experienced project director and advocate for women in tech industries. 

"Going to an all girls school was really good for me," she said. 

"It gave me more confidence. 

"There were no distractions and I got really interested in computer studies and media. 

"Then when I went to a sixth form college that was mixed it was a big distraction. 

"When I was doing my GCSEs I got straight As, but when /I went to a mixed college I didn't do so well. 

"I actually think I dumbed down to fit in at college more than I did when I was at girls' school. 

"When went into the digital field it was male dominated and most of my friends as an adult were men. I don't think going to a girls' school prevented me communicating with men. 

"My teachers really promoted the idea of girls doing everything blokes can do."

4. Laura Albon

The Argus:

LAURA Albon works for Brighton solicitors Helix Law. 

Despite the traditionally male dominated career path Laura, who went to co-educational Ratton School, in Eastbourne, said that she agreed with Richard Cairns that single sex schools could give children an unrealistic view of the world. 

She said: "He has possibly not made some of his comments the right way, but I don't really understand why you would put children and teenagers into a situation that's not the real world. 

"When you are getting to 14, 15, 16 and you are getting to understand the world a world, the normal world is one where you mix with other sexes. 

"That is real life. 

"And I don't think it is just about girls, I think it's both sexes that benefit.

Laura, 27 works for two male partners at her firm of solicitors - but said her gender had never got in the way of her success. 

She added: "There are a lot of organisations and groups out there to support women in business but I think you wouldn't have a men's only business support group. 

"I'm as good as anyone and I really don't think my sex has held me back."