Does gender make a difference in the classroom?
Enjoy Education is running a series of articles in The Resident magazine to address the key decisions families need to make when it comes to schooling and education. This article looks at the choice between co-educational and single-sex schools by addressing a few core questions:
- Should schools reflect the mixed gender balance of the real world?
- What impact does the school environment have on grades?
- Can co-educational and single sex schooling be combined?
When selecting the right school, one of the first questions for parents to consider is whether their children would benefit from a co-educational or single sex education. Often tempered by their own experiences, this is a topic that can be difficult to answer. Of course, there is no right or wrong answer, only what is right for your child at each particular stage in these formative years. Here are a few elements to consider when trying to understand what might be best for your children.
Advocates of single sex education will argue that allowing children to learn in an environment away from the distractions of the opposite sex allows for a greater focus on their academic education and therefore, is more likely to achieve better exam results. Tony Little, the former headmaster of Eton College, argued that single sex education allowed pupils to “be themselves”, extending their childhood until they reached the bigger, wider world. Away from the opposite sex, children can go through those all-important years without worrying as much about appearance or asking that obvious question in class.
Others will argue that it’s important for children to be in a co-educational school as the real world and working life is co-educational. Schools should be preparing children for adult life and we all need to understand and celebrate our differences in order to succeed in the future. There are many arguments which show that a co-educational school gives children the opportunity to develop friendships and understand the boundaries and differences within a safe and structured environment.
Some single sex schools have adapted to meet this need and introduced co-education for 6th form. This can work particularly well for some students, especially if they have been in a single sex environment throughout their schooling. This flexible structure highlights an important aspect of the decision making process, you don’t need to pick one type of school all the way through. Your child might flourish in a single sex prep school only to go on and enjoy the co-ed environment of secondary school and, of course, vice versa.
Recent research suggests that girls in single sex schools are more likely to achieve better GCSEs grades and continue into higher education than those in a mixed school. Whilst other reports suggest boys perform better in a co-educational environment. However, for every report suggesting that one group performs better than the other, there’s another to counter the argument. It’s clear that there is no right answer. Rather than trying to weigh up the general academic scores, it’s better to understand what works for your child and in what environment they would be most likely to flourish. Each independent school is unique and choosing between co-educational and single sex education is just one part of the decision-making process. The right school for your child might surprise you!