When Keystone offers advice on choosing schools, we aim to recommend schools which will best prepare a child for adult life, both academically and socially.
Gender is one of the most politicised topics of our day, and one that of course bears on schools that limit themselves to just one gender. Single-sex schools are of the opinion that gender matters. Whilst there is very little evidence to suggest that single-sex schools offer a better learning environment than co-educational, or vice versa, there are crucial questions which need to be considered with reference to each specific child. This blogpost examines a few of the most pressing ones.
Does the environment differ between single-sex and co-ed schools?
There is an argument that single-sex schools tend to foster a more competitive environment than “co-ed” schools. Helen Fraser, head of the Girls’ Day School Trust, writes in The Telegraph, “in a mixed classroom, boys tend to dominate discussions, frequently putting themselves forward as leaders in group activities. Girls, meanwhile, are inclined to hold back”. She makes the case that within a single-sex school, there is less pressure to conform to these stereotypes and, as a result, classrooms are often bursting with liberal ideas and vibrant discussions, the hallmarks of great education.
Not everyone, including this acacemic study, agrees with this line of thinking but it is important to remember that entrance into many single-sex schools has become more competitive as their number has fallen. Entrance to schools such as Harrow and Tonbridge was not nearly as competitive a few decades ago as it is today, and in turn the academic environment of these schools has also become more competitive.
Are there differences in academic choices?
The BBC recently claimed that girls at single-sex schools are more likely to study traditionally male-dominated subjects such as maths and science. The Telegraph and The Guardian picked up on the Girls’ Schools Association report in 2004 which also suggested that girls were more likely to choose maths and science in a single-sex environment. These articles argue that single-sex schools allow students to grow up away from gender bias, maturing without restrictions and leaving school as independent thinkers.
In opposition, the Headmaster of Brighton College (co-ed) writes in The Telegraph that gender stereotyping is increased in a single-sex environment and that “all girls schools have a strong track record in traditionally 'masculine' subjects because they are highly selective institutions… bright girls are more likely to study physics than those of average ability”.
Does your child have regular opportunities to socialise with the opposite sex outside school?
Critics argue that single-sex schools create an artificial environment where there is little to no preparation for the inevitable reality of interaction with both sexes during adult life. If you are a family of all boys (or vice versa), this might be a key factor to consider.
Tony Little, ex-headmaster of Eton, writes in The Telegraph that students at single-sex schools keep their innocence for longer. This could be a disadvantage to an oldest child where it might be an advantage to a youngest child.
Does single-sex benefit girls more than boys?
The current trend in the UK is towards co-ed education as more and more boys’ schools drop their single-sex status and bring in girls at sixth form or all the way through. Whether single-sex education benefits girls more greatly than boys is discussed by The Spectator and The Guardian with no firm consensus.