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Manchester High School for Girls

EMMA BARNETT CAUTIONS GIRLS AGAINST THE ‘CULT OF PERFECTION’ AT AWARDS EVENING 

Manchester High School for Girls welcomed back former pupil, Emma Barnett, as Guest of Honour at its annual Celebration and Awards Evening on Monday 10th October at the Bridgewater Hall.

From left Emma Barnett, Mrs Claire Hewitt (Head Mistress) and Mrs Elizbeth Spence (Chair of Governors)

The return of the award-winning journalist and broadcaster to her alma mater coincides with her recent takeover of the BBC 5Live morning show (Wednesday to Friday) which she presents from London and MediaCityUK. Emma also regularly hosts Woman’s Hour and is the youngest presenter in the programme’s 70 year history. She writes a weekly column for the Sunday Times Magazine and is co-host of a weekly political debate programme on Sky News.

Themed around ‘ambition’ the event celebrated the accomplishments of past and present pupils and saw the presentation of GCSE certificates and awards for achievement, effort and contribution to the life of the school community.

As part of her key note speech, Emma Barnett reflected on her own time at Manchester High, speaking about the realities of life post-school and how dangerous the ‘cult of perfection’ can be to female ambitions.   

She recalled, “I did well in my GCSE’s, securing a string of A*s and As. My parents were thrilled but I distinctly remember telling them, and most importantly believing, that ‘…it just isn’t good enough’. I was comparing myself to girls who had achieved straight A*s across the board and I was disappointed in myself. Sometimes, as girls and women, we need to accept that on most days ‘good’, and not perfect, is plenty good enough.”

Speaking in her typically frank style, Emma gave students eight pointers on how to cope when life throws in a curve ball:

  • Be the entrepreneur of your own life. Go out there and create the job role that you want. When I started at The Telegraph they didn’t have a women’s section, I made it
  • Remember, if it feels odd or awkward then it’s usually progress. First stepping into a radio studio was overwhelming but now it’s second nature
  • Learn to trust the voice in your head; go with your instincts
  • Appoint a board of people that you trust implicitly to run ideas past; be it love, life or work. This is your Council of War and you’re going to need them
  • Don’t be afraid for people to dislike you, in fact, develop a talent for it. Stay at the table for the conversation, even if they don’t want you there
  • That said, be polite and attentive whenever possible, write thank-you notes, keep in touch and be respectful
  • Aim to add something new to your CV every year, not necessarily work-related but a hobby, talent or experience you have grown from. Post school you have to create your own curriculum
  • Finally, leave time for love and fun in your life. It doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship, although they can be great, but invest in your personal life. Be happy.

Mrs Hewitt, Head Mistress of Manchester High School for Girls, commented:

“When we discussed this year’s theme we debated whether we should go with the title of ‘aspiration’ or ‘ambition’. After all, there is the perception that ambition is often a harsh and ugly trait in females. 

“However, to shy away from a theme of ‘ambition’ would be to do our girls a gross disservice.

At MHSG there is nothing embarrassing about working hard or being good at something. We are committed to ensuring that none of our girls ever feel shy about admitting their desire to get on in life and succeed. Instead of associating ambition with calculating, ruthless behaviour, we view our ambitious girls as having courage, heart and conviction.”

The evening also celebrated the achievements of the School’s recent A-level cohort whose examination results gave MHSG the highest percentage of A* to B grades across the North West in The Times newspaper rankings.

Ceferina, winner of the School’s Warburton music competition which has been in existence since 1935, performed ‘Adieu de l’hôtesse arabe’ by Bizet and the audience also enjoyed renditions from the school orchestra and choirs from both the Preparatory Department and Senior School.

Photos of the event can be viewed on our Flickr