Co-ed or single-sex schools
The arguments for and against single sex and co-ed schools are far from simple. While there are passionate views on all sides and a lot of research to consider, no one answer will suit every child or parent. Charlene Naidoo discusses

The arguments for and against single sex and co-educational schools are far from simple. While there are passionate views on all sides, as well as bundles of research to consider, no one answer will suit every child or every parent.

Single-sex schools

All-girls' schools

Proponents of single sex education claim that girls often get “lost” in the classroom because boys tend to be louder and boisterous and grab more of the teacher’s limited attention.

Single sex schools are lauded for prioritising girls’ academic goals. Research shows that girls do better in girls’ only schools – their academic results are higher, maths and science classes aren’t the domain of boys, they receive one-on-one attention, praise and help, and the predominantly female staff gives a good base of role models.

The research certainly seems to support some of these claims, showing that girls’ schools produce significantly more female mathematicians, engineers, scientists and linguists than schools catering for both sexes – and that both girls and boys perform better on standardised tests when they went to separate schools.

All-boys' school

There are compelling arguments for boys’ schools, too. Boys get to be boys, they develop a friendly camaraderie and competitiveness without the distraction of girls, and can focus on study first and relationships later. But the evidence also shows that boys benefit from the dual gender dynamic which contributes to a gentler environment.

The benefits of single-sex schools

Supporters of single sex education say both boys and girls benefit from the special expertise of teachers who know and understand gender-based learning styles, while they are also able to move away from gender stereotyping in choosing subjects and extramural interests.

The studies show

But for every study that finds benefits to single sex education, there seems to be another one that finds otherwise. Research has also shown that children who attend single sex schools do no better than those at co-ed schools.

Traditionally, many single sex schools have been private schools, so it’s not clear how much of the advantage can be attributed to the absence of the opposite sex, and how much to other factors. Some argue that the success is down to selection, not gender – the children come from particular socio-economic backgrounds and have excellent teachers.

Co-ed schools

Co-ed schools are seen by many as providing a more “normal” environment that mimics the reality outside of the classroom where children have to learn to interact with and socialise with the opposite sex.

Males and females can learn from each other by pooling their talents. And if they learn from a young age how to socialise and work with each other, work relationships in later years will be easily established and maintained.

The benefits

While single sex schools may encourage boys or girls to play all roles in society, they don’t teach each sex to compete for these roles realistically. Co-ed schools encourage girls and boys to compete for different roles with each other, which is the same scenario as in the working world.

Co-ed schooling may also offer a more rounded education. Boys and girls need to socialise with each other as friends, classmates, project partners and sports mates throughout their schooling and age stages.

The coordinate model

Because girls mature earlier from age 11 to 14, there is an advantage to single sex schooling at this age for both genders. They are able to develop at their own pace and their behaviours are not stereotyped.

A growing trend is to give children the best of both worlds – the academic advantages that a single-sex school might offer, and more opportunities to work with and socialise with the opposite sex. Known as the “coordinate model” it is mesh of co-ed and single sex schools. The model fuses sharing and separation. Boys and girls mix for certain classes and activities and separate for others.

What is right for your child

What is most important though, is that choosing a good school involves many factors. Unfortunately, the studies will not give you a definitive answer. What children most need is a school environment that reflects their individual needs and personality.

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