Single sex education

I went to an all-girls school. In Australia, such schools seem very common but in the UK single sex education is becoming increasingly rare. In my town there were three secondary schools – a boys’ school, a girls’ school and a mixed school. Back when my parents were at the boys’ and girls’ schools (yes, we really are a local family!) they were grammar schools which means they were selective, but state-funded. The mixed school was the tertiary school – for those who didn’t take or pass their 11 plus exam. It was supposed to teach more practical subjects.

While I was at school the single sex schools out-performed the mixed school. Then the boys’ school started to drop down the league tables. A short while after I left I believe the girls’ school started to struggle to maintain standards too. Nowadays all three schools are pretty much on a par in terms of academic achievements. They all do better in some things than others.

So, with my judgement based on this specific example I wonder whether there is a place for gender-segregated education?

League tables don’t seem to help justify single sex schooling (at least in the UK) because the remaining selective schools and many private schools are still single sex, while state-funded schools are more likely to be mixed. Selective and private schools are always going to outperform state schools due to better funding and the old argument that families who send their child to these schools are going to be more supportive of the education process. The sex issue becomes secondary.

My own experience says single sex education is a good thing. I didn’t give two hoots what I looked like at school (and there are unfortunately many photos to prove that!) because there were no boys there. I could annoy my teachers with lots of lesson participation without worrying that the latest object of my affection would think me dorky. We saw the boys in after school clubs, so we still learnt how to interact with the opposite sex, but in school hours where our priority was supposed to be learning we were relatively undistracted by our hormones (aside from much pencil-case scribbling!)

I plan to do a separate post on my thoughts on women-only professional environments (such as women’s networking events), because I am not a fan. But I am aware that the argument could be levelled at single sex education that it doesn’t prepare children for the real world, where you need to excel despite the presence of the opposite sex. Perhaps female only environments breed a belief among girls that women should be treated differently. Perhaps male only schools breed misogynists.

My own schooling taught me that my sex was irrelevant when considering achievement. The best and the worst in the class were both female and girls taking advanced science options were not outnumbered by boys.

Mixed sex environments are natural, and there is plenty of time for that. After our GCSEs (aged 16) the schools shared curriculums, offering more subjects to their combined pupils at the three different sites. At university there is plenty of time for inter-gender mingling. At work there can be no avoiding it.

Many education studies have proven that women and men’s brains do work quite differently (in simple terms we are often told boys excel in exams while girls outperform in coursework). If this is the case, surely segregated and tailored education has a place?

Very interested to hear your thoughts – particularly from anyone in the educational sphere.


4 responses to “Single sex education

  1. There are arguments for both. selective schools over not selective schools should do better, so its no brainer for the mixed school being less successful.

    I seem to remember seeing stats that women do better from single sex education. but men suffer. Agree women and men think differently and abilities develop at different rates as well.

    Teaching at a tertiary level and seeing the guys trying o prove themselves by “helping” the female students was always hilarious.

    But the ability to interact and treat women as equals at a formative stage in education cannot be overlooked. Way too many sportsmen come from single sex schools – the resulting issues a lot of them face suggests single sex education isnt so great in the long run.

    • A really good point Mal, looking at the benefits to women through the societal educational benefits to men of being educated alongside women (if that makes sense… you put it so much better).

      Hadn’t really thought about that.

  2. Campbell Simpson

    I’m a fan of single-sex education purely because it separates easily-distracted children from each other when they’re meant to be learning. Kids have enough to do in the classroom without gossiping, perving, showing off et al. Sex-tailored education programs make a lot of sense to me.

    NB I went to a single-sex selective high school in the south of Sydney. There was a single-sex Catholic girls’ school across the road, and a selective girls’ school about 15mins walk away – they were our unofficial sister school. I can recall myself and almost all of my cohort interacted with the opposite sex regularly; we hung out after school, most of the guys’ girlfriends were from our sister school, we had inter-school sports competitions (generally involving us guys dressing up in skirts)…

    I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I had a focused learning environment in the hours it mattered, but we were more than able to interact with the opposite sex on a day-to-day basis.

    My girlfriend’s thoughts mirror mine on this topic, but then again she’s from that sister school 🙂

  3. There’s another aspect to this and that is female students (or males) with disabilities. I am on the autistic spectrum, have learning disabilities and also have medical conditions. I went to 11 schools before I finished my schooling. Until I was 14 I was educated in mixed gender schools. At 14 my mother moved me 55 miles and placed me in a girls only high school for my GCSE’s. If she hadn’t I am convinced I wouldn’t be the 25 year old, research council and industry fully funded, PhD student in biofuel science/ crop biology I am today. Without boys, there was no need for the girls to pretend to be weak, insipid and stupid to impress them. There were no incomprehensible social rules and rigmoroles which I didn’t understand. There was just school. It was far from a paradise but it removed many problems which allowed me to focus on my studies until I was old enough to learn the apparent ‘social rules’ (and mimic accordingly). I was never a fan of school but without that single sex high school and those high GCSE grades that resulted I would not have gone on to be what I am today so easily as it was evidence of prior higher attainment.
    Also there was all male grammer school (whom we joined with for sixth form). The boys I met there and the ones I’m still in contact with are the least sexist men I’ve ever met. The biggest misogynists I know all went to mixed sex schools.

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