Is Single-Sex Education Better?

Whilst different educational environments are preferable for different students, research has shown that a single-sex education offers benefits for both boys and girls. In 2005, the proportion of A grades achieved at A Level in all-girl independent schools was approximately 10% higher than that of girls in co-educational independent schools, in Maths, Further Maths, all three Sciences, French, History and Geography. However, despite research like this favouring a single-sex education, critics say it is other factors, rather than single-sex status, driving the success, such as social background and ability.

One benefit of a single-sex education is that it allows girls to gain more confidence. A study in the US showed that of the female members in Congress, a quarter of them attended girls’ schools. In addition, a third of the female board members of Fortune 100 companies had attended a girls’ school. This impressive statistic seems to support the idea that a single-sex environment allows girls to feel more confident about their ideas and so will more readily participate in class discussions, rather than being worried about what boys might think. In addition, single-sex classrooms often have fewer discipline problems to deal with – particularly when concerning boys. This is due to the distraction of impressing or competing against the opposite sex being eliminated, allowing the students to be more focused. Another benefit of a single-sex education is that boys and girls feel comfortable in taking untraditional subjects. More girls in single-sex schools take STEM subjects than in co-ed schools, whilst boys at a single-sex school are more likely to pursue the Arts. As well as this, students in single-sex schools are encouraged to take on roles regardless of traditional stereotypical views; a girl could be the Head of Physics, whilst a boy could take on the role as Head of Wellbeing. Thus a single-sex environment allows for students to unlearn traditional stereotypes and to no longer think of roles in terms of gender.

On the other hand, it has been argued that single-sex schools don’t have an impact on results, with Professor Alan Smithers (one of Britain’s leading education experts) stating that girls’ schools can make ‘exaggerated claims’ because of their excellent league table positions. But, according to him, they do well because many are independent or grammar schools. Additionally, a study by Smithers showed that high-ability girls at co-educational schools were just as likely to take Physics A Level as those at single-sex schools, undermining the idea that STEM subjects are more popular in single-sex schools and instead putting it down to ability. Furthermore, some critics believe that single-sex schools do not prepare students for ‘real life.’ Since ‘the real world’ is mixed gender, it could be argued that the school environment ought to emulate this, allowing for students to feel comfortable and confident in communicating and interacting with the opposite sex.

Overall, it appears that there are many advantages of attending a single-sex school, with further studies being undertaken to support this. However, in answering this question, it is more important to assess whether a single-sex education is better for the individual as opposed to in general. Therefore, what is truly important, is that the right learning environment is selected based on the individual student and how they learn. I for one feel that a single-sex education has benefited me since it has enabled me to more openly share my thoughts and ideas as well as (probably to my parents’ delight!) eliminated the distraction of the opposite sex. Rather than expending my energy on boys, I have instead built strong and supportive friendships that will last a lifetime.

Ila (UVI Form)