Nicky Morgan speaks at Girlguiding UK’s survey launch

The Secretary of State for Education explains how issues raised by the 'Girls' Attitudes Survey' are being addressed.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Nicky Morgan

It’s over a century since your predecessors gatecrashed the first boy scout rally at Crystal Palace to persuade Robert Baden-Powell to offer ‘something for girls too’.

It’s fair to say that girls have been gatecrashing a lot of things since then. As girlguiding has gone from strength to strength, so have girls and women across society.

I was a Guide myself and have fond memories of fun - albeit freezing - camps. And so I’m delighted that we’re hosting you in the heart of government.

I’m very aware that there aren’t nearly enough women in politics and Parliament - and I’m working hard with many others to put that right. But looking around, it’s hard not be hugely impressed by the girls we’ve just heard from and by the amazing Girlguiding advocates.

It’s hard not to feel hopeful about the future with young women of this calibre coming through. I feel passionate that they should have the opportunities they deserve - to live their lives free to be who they want to be.

To be safe, to have high aspirations, to be happy and healthy. And to be supported to build character and find their feet, knowing that nothing is off limits.

This is our plan to prepare our children for life in modern Britain - to ensure that whether they’re looking for help with mental health issues or positive role models, we’re there for them all the way. Because growing up in modern Britain is hard.

The current generation won’t enjoy the same opportunities as the last. They are not guaranteed a job for life with a large pension, generous allowances and the sense of security that brings. They will face huge challenges, both in work and in life, as our understanding of families changes and the society around them changes too. They will be subject to competition from all sorts of places, both here in Britain and from overseas too.

We talk often of the global race - and I understand that can seem overwhelming - but it’s a reality which we do need to address. Modern Britain is a country of opportunity but of real uncertainty too.

Our job - the job of anyone interested and engaged in the education system today - is to ask how schools can best prepare young people to thrive and survive in this kind of country. As this year’s ‘Girls’ Attitudes Survey’ shows, there’s much more to do. In particular, I was profoundly disturbed to see a high number of girls reporting that they know someone who self-harms, has depression or has an eating disorder.

As I’ve said earlier, mental health has long been one of my key priorities - in fact, in 2012, I secured the first ever substantial debate about mental health in the House of Commons.

I know that we can do better on child and adolescent mental health services. Which is why we’re working to link support more closely across health, schools and social services - and why my department has developed a mental health taskforce with the Department for Health.

In fact, one of my first decisions as Secretary of State was to appoint a DfE minister with specific responsibility for these issues and this taskforce - Sam Gyimah.

But I agree that better education about mental health is also vital - hence the mental health guidance we’ve developed for schools.

We’re also working with experts to produce guidance on high-quality counselling services in schools. It is vital that we help ensure more young women - indeed, more young people - get the support they need.

Another area that leapt out at me was the significant numbers of girls who say they’ve suffered bullying and sexual harassment. There is no absolutely no question that all young women deserve to feel safe and to be able to grow up without suffering or fearing violence and abuse. Which is why we’re taking action - both on and offline - to make this happen.

We’re taking steps to protect children from abuse and harmful material on the internet, and clamping down on “revenge porn” through measures currently going through Parliament that will make it a specific offence.

We’re also doing much more to keep girls safe offline, with a concerted drive against bullying in schools - especially homophobic bullying.

In fact, just last month, I announced the creation of a new £2 million fund to help schools prevent and combat homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying more effectively.

And there’s the This is Abuse campaign, which aims to prevent teenagers from becoming victims and perpetrators of abusive relationships.

My colleague Theresa May has also led on several important measures in this area - allowing women to check their partner’s criminal history, introducing domestic violence protection orders, criminalising forced marriage.

But there are other kinds of pressures too often holding young women back. This was highlighted in the survey. I was sad to see that over half of 17- to 21-year-olds feel ashamed about the way they look. And that 2 in 5 don’t take part in fun activities because they’re self-conscious about their appearance.

Whilst there are no easy answers, we are committed to looking at the causes. This includes negative representations of women in the media.

Changing these is as much about a cultural shift as anything else.

And many of you will know that my colleague Jo Swinson is working hard with industry to drive precisely this shift by promoting understanding about body confidence.

I recently gave evidence to the select committee on broadcasting and looked at the importance of having positive role models in the media - on and off camera.

Young people also deserve good support around sex and relationships education - and we have developed guidance to help schools deliver this informatively and effectively.

I want girls to feel safe, but I also want them to feel they can achieve anything.

That’s why we’re improving careers advice and extending opportunity through our work with the Women’s Business Council.

And striving to increase the number of women working in the science and technology sectors through the Your Life campaign. This will ensure more young people know about the range of options available and have the aspiration to choose from a range of careers.

For too long, careers in these subjects were seen as ‘something for the boys’. It is in the interests of the whole country that we help all girls to fulfil their potential.

We’ll also be publishing an online careers guide for parents early next year that explains how they can ensure that nothing stands in the way of their daughters’ ambitions. This was developed with parents and teenage girls - among them the Girlguiding Advocates.

My thanks to them for their fantastic contribution - and to Girlguiding UK and your supporters.

It says a great deal that, over 100 years after you were founded, you remain strong and valued champions for our young women and a powerful force for good in our society.

There’s no doubt that we’ve come a long way, with girls excelling at school and women making ever-greater strides in the workplace.

In fact, just over a fortnight ago, we saw the gender pay gap narrow to 19.1% thanks to a continued push by this government.

This means that for both full-time workers and overall, it’s at its lowest point in history. This is great news, but the gap is still too high and I’m determined to see it come down further and faster.

Because there are still a fair few glass ceilings to be smashed and gates to be crashed. And knowing that we have the gatecrashers par excellence on side makes me feel a real sense of confidence that there’s much more we can achieve together.

Thank you.

Published 4 December 2014