ACER report reveals single-sex schools outperform co-ed

Article by Loren Bridge
AGSA / 03 October 2017

Single-sex schools outperform co-ed in NAPLAN

An analysis undertaken by ACER on Year 3, 5 and 7 NAPLAN data shows that students in single-sex schools outperform students in co-ed schools on both measures of reading and numeracy. This trend is also apparent in Year 9 NAPLAN results, and is supported by senior school results such as HSC, VCE, OP.

Contrary to interpretation of this report by some media outlets co-ed students are not learning faster, and there is no value-add to co-ed schooling shown by the ACER analysis — in fact the results show the opposite.

If your only educational goal for your child is to achieve a higher NAPLAN score then a single-sex school is more likely to deliver this result.

ACER’s statement that “there is no value add” to single-sex schooling refers to the fact that the gap between single-sex students and co-ed students remains constant between Year 3 and Year 7 — the gap does not increase. But it does not significantly reduce either, meaning that co-ed students do not ‘catch up’ to single-sex students.

In numeracy boys in single-sex schools are 3.9 terms, or one year, ahead of co-ed students and girls are 2.8 terms ahead. In reading girls in single-sex schools are 5 terms ahead in Year 3 (and 4.2 terms ahead in Year 7) while boys in single-sex schools are 2.1 terms ahead in Year 3 (and 1.6 terms ahead in Year 7).

There is no evidence from the ACER analysis or the NAPLAN results to suggest that students from co-ed schools are even equalling let alone outperforming single-sex school students in either numeracy or reading.

What is revealed is the immediate gap in performance at Year 3 which continues through to Year 7. This suggests that boys and girls learned differently and benefit from being separated in their schooling.

A 2014 report found that even after accounting for the variation between schools’ intake policies (e.g. academic selection) and student characteristics (including socioeconomic status), a statistically significant effect was found in favour of students attending single-sex government schools in terms of numeracy and literacy testing (NAPLAN) and tertiary entrance results. (1)

Similarly, researchers at the National Centre for Vocational Educational Research found that for “reasons the data cannot uncover, schools which deviate from the norm”, including single-sex schools, “do better” when it comes to tertiary entrance scores. They also found that a school’s socioeconomic status does not influence tertiary entrance scores. (2)

Vitally, any assessment of education should not be based solely on academic achievements and interests. Yes, academic merit is important. However, for girls in particular it is the social and emotional building blocks, the confidence to take bold approaches to challenges, the skills to embrace calculated risks and the leadership opportunities that girls’ schools provide both during and after their schooling that sets them apart.

Lastly ACER predicts the demise of single-sex schooling by 2035. The data used to make this claim is over 20 years old and reflects school closures and amalgamations during the recession of the 1990s.  This century in Australia we have seen a handful of prominent boys’ schools convert to co-ed and no new government single-sex schools opened. So, while there is no growth there is no further decline. And if we look overseas to the US single-sex schooling is on the rise.

There has been strong growth in the introduction of single-sex classes in many co-ed schools especially for STEM subjects and schools moving to parallel campuses. These models attempt to replicate many of the benefits single-sex schools provide without the costs. For girls, however while single-sex classes are beneficial it is the bigger learning and social environment of school that is important in terms of gender stereotyping, confidence and resiliance.

Rather than arguing over which model of schooling is better or the pedantics of academic analyses surely, we should be looking at what single-sex schools are doing and trying to replicate this in co-ed schools for the benefit of all Australian students.

There is no best or better school model it is about choice and what works for each student and family.

Loren Bridge – Executive Officer – Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia 

(1) Lu, L., & Rickard, K. (2014). Value added models for NSW government schools. NSW: Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation, NSW Department of Education and Communities.

(2) Gemici, S., Lim P., & Karmel, T. (2013). The impact of young people’s transition to university. Adelaide: NCVER.