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.