The Telegraph, 06/01/15, can single-sex education really be regarded as 'best', asks Boarding School Beak
Yet again the argument has resurfaced about which is better, single-sex or co-ed schooling: would boys in particular work better on their own?
Indeed, speaking to the Sunday Times, the first male president of the Girls’ School Association (GSA), Alun Jones, called for boys to be “protected” from high achieving girls by being educated in boys-only schools, especially aged 11-16.
This, he argues, would halt their underperformance at key stages of academic achievement: GCSE results, A-level results and application to universities.
I grow tired of these same old arguments being trotted out year after year. Why? Because it should seem abundantly clear to most sensible teachers and parents that there are obvious benefits on both sides of this debate – and that neither single-sex nor co-ed schools can ever be judged to be “best”.
Boys may indeed perform better without the “intimidating” presence of highly motivated girls to put them off. But they would certainly miss out in other vital areas, if educated in an all male environment.
For a start, their social skills, in the shape of their ability to mix naturally with the opposite sex, would be severely lacking. More seriously, in compensation for their perceived classroom inferiority, boys could develop unrealistic and even sexist attitudes.
Without girls in the classroom to correct any misconceptions, it would be far easier for generalities and prejudices to fester.
I have to come clean here: I went to an all-boys school myself and, while my exam results were OK, in other ways this education proved less positive. Girls were not part of our everyday life and were not always viewed realistically.
They tended to be seen idealistically and placed on a pedestal, dismissed as not “attractive” enough, or, at worst, viewed as sex symbols. At the time, I would have gladly traded a few As for a functioning relationship with a teenage girl.
What’s more, as a teacher, I’ve now worked in both types of school – single-sex and co-ed – and again, my firm belief is that there are benefits on both sides of this educational divide, and that neither offers the perfect solution.
Yes, single-sex schools deliver better exam results: one has only to glance at the apex of the Telegraph’s own A-level and GCSE league tables for proof of the pudding here: these are dominated by single-sex schools.
Free from the constraints of having to pose and pout in front of the opposite sex, boys and girls are left free to concentrate on academics.
But at what cost? Even if grades are a notch or two lower in co-ed classrooms, given the obvious distractions, this could be a price worth paying in terms of other benefits. These might include increased confidence and social skills; being more at ease with the opposite sex; and, above all, the ability to see girls or boys as simply friends, not merely potential “dates”.
There is also some evidence that, once teenagers from single-sex school move on to university, a totally co-ed environment, they overcompensate for previous restrictions and veer out of control: in the shape of excessive partying and, sometimes, over-promiscuous behaviour as undergraduates.
So while this debate is bound to rage on, I for one think it can never be resolved. The grass is greener on both sides of this particular educational fence.
Read the full article © The Telegraph (subscription may be required)