Kester Lee and Judy Anderson from the University of Sydney have found that girls in single-sex schools have the most positive attitudes to mathematics and girls in co-educational schools have the least positive attitudes. In fact, their study found that girls in single-sex schools were the most positive of all students, followed by boys in single-sex schools, then co-educational boys and finally co-educational girls. Lee and Anderson concluded that: “For the girls involved in this study, students in single-sex settings resulted in much more favourable attitudes towards mathematics than those in coeducational settings.”
Lee and Anderson note that their findings are in “strong agreement” with a 2014 Irish study of four schools by Prendergast and O’Donoghue which found that students at a single-sex male school reported enjoying mathematics the most, followed by students at a single-sex female school, while at the co-educational schools, male students enjoyed mathematics significantly more than female students. Lee and Anderson’s findings also strongly agree with a 2010 Australian study by Tully and Jacobs which found that girls from single-sex schools outscored boys on measures of self-perception of mathematical skill and ability.
The University of Sydney researchers write that the gender differences in attitudes to mathematics in co-educational schools “raises the larger issue of gender stereotyping and possible impacts of school setting”. It may be, they argue, that girls in co-educational schools “are more likely to conform to gender stereotypes”, whereas girls in single-sex schools may have more freedom not to conform to “gendered expectations”. Lee and Anderson conclude that this has implications for how educators address negative attitudes towards mathematics, noting that some co-educational schools have introduced single-sex mathematics classes.
Note: Staff members of Alliance schools can access a research abstract of Lee and Anderson’s study in the Research Library at https://www.agsa.org.au/research/
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 (Proceedings of the 38th annual conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia [MERGA]), (pp. 357-364). Sunshine Coast, Queensland: MERGA.