New research confirms girls are more confident in maths and science at girls’ schools

04 August 2016

New research released today by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research confirms that girls in single-sex schools are more likely to enjoy and be confident in mathematics and science than girls in co-educational schools.

The research reveals that differences between boys and girls are already apparent in attitudes towards mathematics by Year 4 in Australian co-educational schools, and that by Year 8 these differences have increased and are also apparent in attitudes towards science. In contrast, girls in single-sex schools are equally as confident and more likely to enjoy mathematics and science than boys in single-sex schools.

The paper’s author, Dr Chris Ryan, said concerns exist that negative attitudes towards mathematics and science among girls may develop quite early in their schooling.

‘In part these attitudes matter because they shape later behaviour and provide a partial explanation for differences in STEM participation in post-secondary education,’ said Dr Ryan.

The research provides strong support for the value of single-sex education for girls from an early age.

In a learning environment dedicated to girls and without social pressure from boys, girls engage in more healthy competition and risk taking – skills that are advantageous for leadership and life success.

Girls’ schools understand how to engage girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and are bucking the trend when it comes to student participation and performance in STEM subjects. This in turn leaves the door open for girls to pursue highly skilled and more highly paid careers in areas traditionally dominated by men.

The research found that these differences in attitudes towards mathematics and science between boys and girls in Year 8 exist in co-educational schools across all school sectors, regardless of social backgrounds, student levels of achievement, student aspirations, language backgrounds or the genders of their teachers.

These findings are consistent with existing research and strongly support the case for girls’ schools, refuting the oft-stated argument that comparisons between student performance at single-sex and co-educational schools are distorted by students’ socio-economic background.

Adding to the growing body of research, the Alliance is currently funding a research project at Monash University with a focus on STEM, the study will track the impact of school setting (single-sex or co-educational) on girls’ and boy’ subject choices and eventual career paths. It is due for completion in 2017.

Australian research into participation of women in STEM careers is crucial to help shape the educational landscape for current and future students.

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, VIC: Melbourne University. Retrieved from: