Janine Dunlop investigates the pros and cons of girls’ and boys’ schools.
“Girls’ schools are cliquey.” “Boys’ schools are sexist,” are some of the common arguments I’ve heard against same sex schooling. I wonder, now that Kid2 is about to apply to high schools: Which approach is the “best”? Is there a “best” approach?
Kid2 wants to follow her friends wherever they go. “Wherever”, in relation to high schools, seems to be limited to girls' schools. Although your choice of high school can’t be based on where your friends are going, I’ve indulged her by doing some research and attending the open days at some local schools, single-sex and co-ed. I was pleasantly surprised by two of the local girls’ schools we visited.
One of them had me pretty much convinced at this statement in their prospectus: “When girls go to single-sex schools, they stop being the audience and become the players”. Some of the other benefits of girls’ schools that they listed also impressed me: “They reinforce a ‘can-do’ philosophy. All leaders, movers, and doers at the schools are female.” “Without the presence of boys, girls tend to display their intelligence and curiosity…”.
These are fairly strong arguments for sending Kid2 to an all-girls school. But as we’re still having difficulty deciding on a direction to take, I decided to ask my Facebook friends what they thought. Some came out for and others against same-sex schooling, and for some, the answer is somewhere in between.
Lara and Shereen, both teachers, argue for same sex schooling, but only in high school. “As hormones come into play and a greater awareness and conscientisation starts taking place I feel that for both sexes distraction from focused attention becomes marked. Thinking about the differences between the way sexes learn is also significant. A boy by nature is prone to pursue passivity,” says Lara.
In agreement with this approach, Lee maintains that single sex schooling in high school means “less drama, more focus, [and] more time for them to be young”.
Good for girls, bad for boys
Jonathan argued for same-sex schooling for girls, but not boys. Stacey concurred: “According to research, girls perform better in single sex schools. If I had had a daughter, that's what I would've done. Boys use most of a teacher's attention and girls feel more pressured to not look nerdy.” Shereen, a girls’ school teacher, thinks that the performance of the girls she teaches “would be nowhere nearly as focused in a co-ed environment.”
Primary school teacher and pre-school head Nicky, believes the cons of same sex schooling far outweigh the pros and she doesn’t think that the differences in learning styles between boys and girls is an issue. “Boys and girls learn more from each other being together. Kids (and therefore adults) struggle to relate socially when they don’t get the practise of being together in a classroom, even after only one year in a single sex classroom. Boys and girls DO learn differently, but this can be addressed in the classroom.”
Some argued that the socialisation aspect was a real problem. Solvej confessed that she “couldn’t talk to a boy for years after leaving school without going bright red”.
Alan argues that “co-ed allows you to get to know the opposite sex on a friendship level so you get to appreciate they're more than just the opposite sex,” and David believes that dealing with the opposite sex is a vital life skill: “The real world is ‘co-ed’. Schools should be too. It's important that young ones learn to deal with and respect the opposite sex.”
Mark feels that he managed to rise above the “regressive” schooling he experienced: “I was lucky I had a colourful social life which gave me far more leverage than the outdated male hierarchical autocratism.”
Some thought the decision depended on the individual.
For Marilyn, it depended on who wanted to go where: “My daughters opted to attend co-ed schools. My son went to a boys-only school”.
Kathy thinks it would depend on the individual child and that there shouldn’t be one ideal. Lisa also took this approach with her children: “I think it depends on the students. My two had a mixture, and when it didn't work we changed course.”
From what everyone has had to say, there seem to be sound arguments for and against single-sex schooling. Kid2 and I are still deciding what the best option is, but in the interim, we’ll apply to both single-sex and co-ed schools and wait to see where the chips fall.
Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.
What's your opinion on single-sex schools?