Female Friendships

9 February 2024

2805 NLCS 167


Last month I welcomed a group of impressive women to our biennial Big Six Dinner. These women, who served NLCS as student leaders, between the late 1990s and the early 2020s, were such brilliant company. The chatter in the room as they caught up with old friends was infectiously joyful. When I spoke to them later in the evening, I commented that they were brilliant examples of the power of the ‘sisterhood’. As International Women’s Day approaches in March, I thought I would reflect on the power of female friendships.

There is something very special about female friendships that stretch over many decades. I will never forget my first meeting with my friend Shona, aged 5, and her splendid red clogs and pretty blue sundress. Shona is now my parents’ local police officer as she completes her fast-track detective training for the police. I have warned them to behave! I will never forget the excitement I felt as a 15 year old when I started spending more time with my friend Emily – we laughed until our cheeks hurt most lunchtimes. Years later, she still entertains us all on WhatsApp groups with her sarcastic humour. Some of my school friends I only ever see occasionally as we are now spread across Europe, but when we meet, it is as if the clocks stopped. Our teachers would be pleased to know that they still occupy a disproportionate amount of our conversation.

My university friends were bridesmaids at my wedding and godmothers to my daughter and we know that however disorganised we are about fixing dinner dates, we are always there for each other if the chips are ever down. The female friends I have met throughout my career have been mentors, role models, comrades-in-arms and true friends.


The recent Big Six dinner.

Like many women, I have been sustained throughout life by a number of female friendships. And I know many women who are far better than I am at keeping in touch with people. So I do not recognise the tropes that some people sometimes circulate about girls’ schools and ‘toxic’ female friendships.

When I ask pupils at NLCS what they most love about the school they often say it is the spirit of supportive aspiration – they often take genuine enjoyment in each other’s success. I remember watching some pupils on one GCSE results day opening their envelopes together and cheering at their friends’ results. It takes huge trust and deep friendship to be able to do that. This sort of occurrence is fairly normal in my line of work – a career that spans over two decades in girls’ schools. Specifically the sort of schools that people like to brand ‘hothouses’ or hotbeds of competitive female behaviour.

Granted, some friendships are challenged by jealousy, power struggles or sometimes plain unkindness. Socially intelligent girls can be adept at subtle behaviours that can undermine and unsettle.

Friendships in all sorts of schools sometimes fall apart or go through upheavals, and we must not forget that teenagers are still learning how to navigate relationships. They are also still learning how to regulate their emotions as their brains continue to develop. Sometimes teenagers say stupid things, post unkind comments, or get involved in ‘drama’. Our role as parents and as teachers is to help them develop the empathy and the social skills they will need to sustain friendships, family and professional relationships as they go through life. I hope that just like me and all the women present at the Big Six Dinner, our current pupils will be sustained and inspired by the power of the sisterhood.

Head's Blog