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Further Discussion on the relative merits of Single Sex and Co-education

Posted on 22 October 2017
Further Discussion on the relative merits of Single Sex and Co-education
An analysis of NAPLAN results revealed no significant advantage for parents who send their children to single-sex schools.

The OECD concluded that any perceived advantage was not because of the type of school but the socio-economic background of the parents.

Furthermore, the number of students enrolled in single-sex schools declined from 31 per cent to 12 per cent in 2015.

But then the debate gets murky!

The ACER report concedes that single-sex schools actually score better NAPLAN results, but students in co-ed schools demonstrate greater improvement and eventually catch up to their counterparts in single-sex schools.

Single-sex school advocates claim that students in their schools are often academically a year ahead of co-eds.

They argue that girls have a better chance of excelling in STEM subjects in a single-sex environment, participate more in sport and have significantly higher self-esteem.

In terms of declining enrolments, economic factors rather than irrelevance or poor performance are to blame. Most new schools are co-ed and more and more traditional single-sex schools are becoming co-ed.

Critics of independent schools will be chuffed that traditional single-sex schools, alleged bastions of privilege and perpetuators of elitism and the old school tie, will be soon assigned to the dust-bin of history.

Their hope is that independent co-ed schools will suffer a similar demise and, like Finland and elsewhere, Australia will then boast world-class state co-ed schools with few, if any private schools in the mix.

Champions of independent schools assert their right to choose and select a school that best suits the needs of their children.

Whether it be for the religious ethos or the academic excellence of a particular school, parents are often willing to make considerable sacrifices to enrol their children in independent schools.

It is simply not true that independent schools only cater for the rich and powerful.

Having taught in boys, girls and co-ed schools, I am not so sure that we should rejoice in the decline of single-sex schools.

Having attended a Catholic co-ed primary school, my primary school days were virtually single sex with our pre-occupation to avoid girls' germs and the horror of actually sitting next to a member of the opposite sex.

In those days single-sex secondary schools were the only option.

In hindsight, I regret there was not a choice because, apart from matriculation, when all the bullies had left, school-life was very much a testosterone jungle with the prospect of physical violence always in the air.

I am assuming that a co-ed setting would have been more civilised and less about farting, punching and alpha males.

Later, when teaching in a boys school, I detected less physical violence but a clear class structure.

Boys who were good at sport seemed to thrive, as did those who excelled academically.

For the rest of the cohort, life was bearable if they accepted their lot.

There was some hope of notoriety being the class clown or tagging along in the alpha male's shadow.

When I was first taught in a girls school it was quite a shock.

Deprived of female company in my secondary schooling, I was soon to discover that men are from Mars and women are indeed from Venus.

I was taken aback by the lack of shoving and pushing and a gentleness and cleanliness which is foreign in boys schools.

However, I wasn't prepared for the cattiness and emotion of a girls school but was nonetheless impressed that the single-sex environment seemed to empower the girls both in and out of class.

This was brought home when the same girls school went co-ed with the neighbouring Catholic boys school.

Girls who had been very forthright in class discussions suddenly became wall-flowers, willing to concede ground to boof-head boys who often had very little to add to any sensible debate.

For me, it seemed that boys benefitted from a more settled, mature and motivated female presence, whereas girls seemed to retire demurely into their shells.

One age-champion girl admitted she did not want to compete in front of the boys.

To me, this is the critical consideration.

Single-sex and co-ed schools, in theory, have much to offer.

Preferring co-education is not appealing If co-ed schools reflect and perpetuate mainstream sexist culture.

A girls school which promotes a feminist agenda and empowers its students to take on the world would seem a better option than a co-ed school with entrenched sexism.

In how many co-ed schools is girls sport given the same prominence as boys sport?

If your son was a sports fanatic, he may love a particular boys school obsession with sport and competition. It's horses for courses.

When choosing schools, parents should consider many factors with a gender make-up just one consideration.

What is the culture of the school, the quality of its teaching, its pastoral care program, its co-curriculum opportunities, its discipline and academic reputation?

Which school will best suit their child's needs?

Currently parents have a choice.

They may very well ignore or, in some instances, cannot afford the option of a single-sex school.

However, we should not allow blind prejudice or ideology to contribute to the decline of single-sex schools.

To that end, I think it is regrettable that there are fewer and fewer single-sex government schools.

There is no perfect fit.  It is crass to boast that one school system is better than the other.

Some students will blossom in a single-sex environment; others will prefer to learn in a co-ed classroom.

I believe we owe it to our children to at least offer them a choice.

Australia is so much richer because of the quality of graduates from state, independent, single-sex and co-ed schools.

Vive la difference!

By Greg Cudmore
Education HQ / October 16, 2017

Tags: curriculum

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