The case for girls’ schools – The Age opinion piece by President Fran Reddan

17 August 2016

Read the new opinion piece written by President Fran Reddan, published in The Age today addressing the inaccurate perceptions of girls’ single-sex schooling.

The single-sex versus co-ed school debate is back in the headlines following the release of research findings from Melbourne University on the performance of students in maths and science. Aubrey Perry’s recent opinion piece in The Age on 11 August 2016 highlights many of the misconceptions about single-sex education. (Link at the end of this article)

For those not familiar with the best of all-girls’ schooling, it is understandable that they would think that co-ed is the way to go; after all, we live in a co-ed world don’t we? The fact is, we don’t live in a balanced co-ed world. Sadly, we are still lacking in gender equality. Men still earn more than women, and women are sorely underrepresented in senior leadership positions, on boards and in government. Women often experience discrimination in their careers, and girls in co-ed schools don’t get maximum attention for their learning.

Choosing a school is one of the most important decisions that parents make for their children. There may never be agreement on which type of schooling is “better” or “best”, but what we should be able to agree on is that each child is an individual and having choice in the education sector is a positive, not a negative. Education is not “one size fits all”. Do we really want an education system that comprises only co-ed schools? What’s wrong with having schools that have their absolute focus on supporting, educating, and giving opportunities to girls? And would other female-oriented organisations such as Girl Guides, the YWCA, and even Business Chicks have to compromise their female focus?

The case for choosing a girls’ school is strong and evidence, both anecdotal and research-based, supports the idea that girls’ schools are better able to create the environment and opportunities needed for girls to succeed and develop intellectually, emotionally and physically. We need these educational environments and many girls and families want them too.

Far from indoctrinating our youth into outdated, gender-biased ideologies or sequestering girls away where their successes are humble secrets as Ms Perry suggests, contemporary single-sex schools give girls and boys the opportunity to be taught in relevant ways to suit their different stages of development, interests and learning styles. It gives them the tools to achieve their potential in a wide range of contexts. A visit to any girls’ school will reveal the unparalleled opportunities provided to girls for life success and leadership both during and after their schooling and just how loudly their successes are celebrated.

Girls’ schools do exactly what Ms Perry is questioning — they challenge traditional gender stereotypes. In a learning environment that is free from gender discrimination, without the competition and social pressure from boys, girls engage in more healthy competition and risk taking and are also more likely to study and do better in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects, and participate in sports and physical education. And post-school they are more likely to pursue tertiary study and careers in STEM, hold leadership positions and earn higher wages than girls’ educated in co-ed schools. One study suggests girls educated in girls’ schools earn 19.7 per cent higher wages than girls from co-ed schools.

It’s simply easier for girls to develop leadership skills in girls’ schools where girls fill every leadership position in every year level in every activity. And we certainly need more women ready and able to take up senior leadership positions and add diversity to the boards of Australian companies.

Parents also choose girls’ schools for their safe, nurturing environment; for the quality of pastoral care that is designed specifically for girls; and for the excellent female role models who encourage their daughters to aim high in whichever path they choose to follow.

So until global society strikes an equal co-ed balance, and is not offended by a woman’s ambition, girls’ schools will continue to play a critical role in educating young women to challenge gender stereotypes and achieve their dreams, just like Hilary Clinton and others like her.

Ms Fran Reddan
President, The Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia

Fran Reddan article published in The Age

In response to Aubrey Perry opinion piece