In a Sydney Morning Herald1 article discussing the transition of Barker College to fully co-ed, Principal Philip Heath suggested that single-sex schooling was a product of a bygone era with no place in a ‘modern world’.
This statement is in contrast to his outlook in January 2016 when he was quoted in The Australian as saying ‘girls tend to mature faster than boys, so [Barker] college will stay boys-only in the junior years…’2
While he is clearly an advocate for strengthening enrolment numbers through the conversion of all-boys schools to mixed gender, now having presided over the inclusion of girls at two boys’ schools, research and international education trends do not support his view of single-sex schooling.
In fact, although a number of boys’ schools have chosen to include girls recently, it is very rare for girls’ school in Australia to move to a co-ed model and countries such as the US are actively opening more single-sex schools with numbers increasing from 34 in 2004 to 850 in 2014 and counting.
Data is indeed continuously emerging in support of single-sex education pointing to the benefits students at girls’ schools enjoy. Studies, such as that of Kester Lee and Judy Anderson from the University of Sydney, found that girls in single-sex schools have the most positive attitudes to mathematics, followed by boys in single-sex schools, co-ed boys and lastly co-ed girls. They concluded that, for girls, “single-sex settings resulted in much more favourable attitudes towards mathematics than those in coeducational settings.”3 Similarly, a 2016 study by Chris Ryan from the Melbourne Institute reported that girls in single-sex schools are more likely to enjoy and be confident in mathematics than girls in co-ed schools, regardless of their socioeconomic status or whether they attend government, Catholic or independent schools.4
The Barker Colleger piece also refers to opinions by Prof Diane Halpern dismissing the value of single-sex schooling, even though she has been widely criticised in the past for co-authoring an article titled ‘The pseudoscience of single-sex schooling’ that other academic researchers panned for its political agenda and for failing to cite any serious research to support its claims. Her views should also be taken in context of her role as a board member of American Council for Co-Educational Schooling (ACCES), an advocacy group that actively opposes single-sex education.
The case for single-sex schools is strong, and vitally should not be based solely on academic achievements and interests. Yes, academic merit is important, however 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 for girls both during and after their schooling that sets them apart. Indeed, this is the modern world for which girls are being prepared.
EXECUTIVE OFFICER – THE ALLIANCE OF GIRLS’ SCHOOLS AUSTRALASIA
Additional articles related to the Sydney Morning Herald piece:
By Andrew Mullins, Adjunct Professor at Notre Dame University (Australia)
From Mamamia journalist Zoe Rochford
- Lee, K., & Anderson, J. (2015). Gender differences in mathematics attitudes in coeducational and single sex secondary education, in M. Marshman, V. Geiger, & A. Bennison (Eds), Mathematics education in the margins, (pp. 357-364). Sunshine Coast, Queensland: Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia.
- Ryan, C. (2016, August). The attitudes of boys and girls towards science and mathematics as they progress through school. Melbourne Institute Working Paper No. 24/16. Melbourne: Melbourne University. Retrieved from: http://www.melbourneinstitute.com/downloads/working_paper_series/wp2016n24.pdf