Educating boys and girls separately

There has been much debate in the national press in recent weeks about the arguments for and against educating boys and girl separately. Indeed it is less than a year since myself I was quoted in The Times on this topic. It is common for education to be organised in what is called the ‘diamond’ shape, which means boys and girls are schooled together up to the age of 11, then separately from age 11 to age 16 and then back together again in the sixth form.

My own experience has given me insight into both systems because I attended a single sex boarding school from the age of 8 to the age of 18; but as a teacher and Headteacher I have only worked in mixed gender schools.

What are the arguments?

Separating girls and boys at 11 years old is partly justified by the arguments of ‘distraction’. The reasoning goes that boys and girls are better off not being distracted by each other because these are the early years of puberty and hormones. But in my experience of mixed gender schools it is remarkable how rarely girls and boys do actually pair off; if you walk into a classroom of a typical mixed secondary school you will see boys sitting on one side of the room and girls on the other – by choice. It is far more often the case that distractions arise from boys falling out with boys and girls falling out with girls.

Patriarchal society

Many people would argue that we still live in a society that is dominated by men, though it is surely a lot more equal than it used to be. The argument promoted by all-girls schools is that girls can flourish in an environment that is not dominated by boys and that you see this particularly in subjects like Science, where the take-up at A level is greater by girls who have attended a single sex school. All-boys schools promote the idea that boys thrive on competition more than girls and so an all-boys school can provide a competitive ethos to match that. In my experience, girls schools can be just as competitive – and anyway, competition is by no means the only way to motivate young people.

Preparation for life

The obvious counter argument to single sex education is that it does not prepare you for life. I have to say that with four brothers and ten years of single sex education I was not prepared to meet girls when I left school! Single sex education has a tendency to make the opposite sex seem extraordinary and mysterious to a young person, whereas mixed gender education has the effect of normalising the differences.

Parental choice in Southend

Parents in Southend appear to have a lot of choice when it comes to single sex education – St Thomas Moore for boys and St Bernard’s for girls along side the two boys High Schools and the two girls High Schools. On the other hand there are also plenty of mixed gender schools too. But shouldn’t two of the High Schools became mixed gender too? At the moment, if you pass the 11+, you have no choice but to attend a single sex school.