TODAY'S consumer driven society is taking people away from their family friends and the community, a leading Bolton headteacher has said.

Sue Hincks, headmistress of Bolton School girls' division and president of the Girls' School Association warned that 'new richer lifestyles' don't necessarily equate to happiness as she gave a speech to other independent girls' school heads at their annual conference.

She asked how many independent school nurseries had been called on to open at weekends and how childcare was expected from 7am and 7pm as people worked to increase their social standing.

Miss Hincks said: "We work longer and longer hours, incurring debt and partners’ displeasure, as we spend less time with family, friends and community organisations because of the need to earn more in order to consume more.

"How many of you have parents too busy to join your Parents’ Association? Or, in day schools, how many of you experience a demand for care between 7am and up to 7pm because those are the times between which adults need to work or be en route to and from work? Or, in nurseries which you run, who has had a request for Saturday and even Sunday opening because parents need that time for work or domestic chores?"

She questioned how we justify our consumerism with $18 billion being spent on cosmetics and £19 billion could eliminate global hunger and malnutrition.

"As headteachers, we have the ability to influence girls to understand that buying stuff can make you happy… but only for a short time. I normally tell the girls ‘six weeks’. That is the length of time getting into my new car made me happy," said Miss Hincks, "Our schools share the ethos that it is altruism which creates happiness.

"We do a lot to help girls reflect on their intelligence and even their ‘trainability’; we are beginning to help them measure their emotional intelligence and resilience. Perhaps we also need to help them understand that the way we measure our social standing has far-reaching consequences, driving much of our personal life satisfaction and determining our collective impact on the environment? We can explore with them the way in which feelings of social discontent and anxiety rise with growing inequality and keep people fighting to maintain their social position, but leaving them fundamentally dissatisfied with their new, richer, lifestyles. "

She added: "That ambition to develop as person, to fulfil one’s potential and to make a difference for good in the world will lead to happiness. Ambition to have more and more funds at one’s disposal and to consume more and more of the world’s resources will not."