I went to an all-girls’ high school and it wasn’t a happy experience. I’d been to a mixed-gender primary school and I desperately missed my male friends. Not only that, but the only time we ever interacted with the boys from our ‘brother school’ was at the occasional, strictly supervised school dance or at the boys’ weekend rowing meets. For some reason, this was the only sports event for which the two schools ever got together, and for which we girls were expected simply to roar support (from our own, separate, girls-only stand).
By contrast, my friend Lily loved her all-girls school – ‘There was no competition for boys’ attention and we could just get on with our work without being distracted by the kinds of nonsense schoolboys get up to in class,’ she says.
Then there’s Gerald, a close primary-school friend of mine who went to our ‘brother school’ and who hated every minute of it – ‘I was a nerd and didn’t play rugby. In fact, I was on the chess team, and that automatically made me a target for bullying.’
But David, who went to a mixed high school, remembers his school days as the happiest of his life – ‘I made some of my lifelong friends there.’
My less-than-fabulous high-school experience was what informed my decision to send my kids to a mixed-gender school. Mainly, I wanted them to socialise naturally with the opposite sex and form solid friendships across gender lines.
I still think sending my kids to a mixed high school was the right thing to do but some statistics I read recently at www.singlesexschools.org
made me think about anew about my decision. A study of boys and girls in different school-gender systems who wrote identical assessment tests threw up some interesting results: boys and girls in co-ed classes scored 37% and 59% respectively in the assessments, while boys and girls in single-sex classes scored 86% and 75% respectively. That’s a big difference.
Not only that, but I learnt that when it came to subject choice, girls in single-sex classrooms were more likely to study traditionally ‘male’ subjects like advanced maths, computer science and physics, while boys in single-sex classrooms were more likely to study ‘female’ subjects like languages, art, music and drama – attending a single-sex school, apparently, breaks down gender stereotypes.
I did well academically at my single-sex high school – better, arguably, than either of my children at their co-ed one – but the difference in my children’s social lives and mine at the same age is marked: they both have a mix of male and female friends, with whom they socialise often and naturally. My teen years were sadly bereft of male friends, and most of those I have today I made either at primary school or after I’d left high school.Co-ed schools or single sex – what do you think?
Read more by Tracey Hawthorne