Single Sex Education: The Pros and Cons

Are single sex schools better than co-educational schools? In this article for Advice for Parents blog we weigh up the pros and cons of single sex education. If you cannot decide whether to send your son or daughter to a single or co-ed school, please call one of our education consultants or use our online enquiry form further down the page.

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Tailored Lessons

Proponents claim that teachers in single-sex classrooms can tailor their lessons to the specific needs of the gender that they are teaching. There is certainly some truth in this argument given the physical differences between boys and girls, which may affect the way in which they learn.

However, claims of this nature tend to rely on sweeping generalisations, as in fact, every child matures at a different rate so a teacher in a co-educational classroom could be faced with a situation where the boys in that class concentrate much better than girls. There is also no indication that teachers cannot adapt their methods to suit both boys and girls in a co-educational classroom.

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Academic Performance

It is often cited that children will achieve better results if they attend a single-sex school. For example, an analysis of results in 2015 by education website SchoolDash showed that 75% of pupils in all-girl secondary schools received five good GCSEs compared with 55% of girls going to mixed schools.

However, this statistic ignores the plethora of other factors that may influence the performance of students at single-sex schools. For example, the overwhelming majority of single-sex schools are private schools. This socio-economic status of private school pupils means that they have the facilities and a higher quality of teaching to perform better than state school students. Whether the school happens to be a single-sex school is a mere detail.

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So, which is best?

There is very little evidence to swing the argument decisively either way. Proponents of a single sex education including Helen Fraser, the former Chief Executive of the Girl’s Day School Trust, claim that academic results are marginally better for both girls and boys at single sex schools because teaching can be tailored to suit the learning style of each sex. They argue that allowing, ‘girls to be girls and boys to be boys’ without the need to impress each other in the classroom, reduces anxiety and improves academic outcomes. They stress that good single sex schools provide plenty of extra-curricular opportunities for mixing with the opposite sex.

Critics of gender segregation, such as Richard Cairns of Brighton College in East Sussex, would argue that siloing teenagers is a recipe for relationship disaster in later life. Mr Cairns also suggests that the data about academic improvements is weak and that sex segregation also increases gender stereotyping and encourages institutionalised sexism. Ultimately, the choice depends on your family’s circumstances, the wishes of your son or daughter and, in some cases, a burning desire to attend a particular school.

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