South Australian academic Judith Gill recently suggested that all Australian schools should be co-educational as students are less likely to be influenced by gender stereotypes and are ‘freer to choose how they want to be’.1
Her argument ignores the findings of studies pointing to the academic, social and emotional benefits of single-sex schools, particularly those that show girls in all-girls schools are more likely to buck the trend when it comes to gender stereotypes. In countries like the USA single-sex schooling is growing in popularity and new single sex schools are opening, while in Australia single-sex classes within co-ed schools are on the rise — evidence that both parents and educators see tangible benefits in single-sex learning environments.
In fact, a 2016 survey conducted by the South Australian Association of State School Organisations (SAASSO) revealed that the majority of more than 900 respondents would like more all-girls public schools in South Australia2. Yes, providing single-sex schools may be a more costly alternative to co-ed, but if it is more effective then perhaps we should be looking to create more single-sex learning environments.
Research actually shows that girls in co-ed high schools can be the victims of implicit bias by teachers who steer girls away from ‘hard’ subjects like advanced maths, physics and computer science,3 and a recent British parliamentary inquiry found that girls in co-ed schools are subjected to daily sexual harassment (including 29% of girls aged 16-18 who experience unwanted sexual touching at school).4
There are numerous studies that show unequivocally that students in single-sex schools benefit from a learning environment free from gender stereotyping, unconscious bias and social pressure.5,6,7 For girls it is the social and emotional support, confidence, and approach to challenges, risks and leadership opportunities that girls’ schools provide. Simply put, every aspect of a girls’ school is tailored to girls and how they learn, without competition and social pressure from boys, and this is enormously empowering for girls in their teenage years. They are free to experiment and explore, they can follow their ambitions without wasting a second thought on how male counterparts might perceive them. And the same applies to boys in all-boys schools who don’t have to worry about how girls perceive them.
Without boys around girls are more likely to participate in sport and physical activity8; to pursue STEM subjects like science and maths 9, and feel confident about their abilities in these subjects.10,11 Girls will also hold every leadership position in girls’ schools from the swim team, coding club and music groups to school captain.
The reasons why parents and students like single-sex schools is that they provide an environment where students can concentrate on their studies during class time and socialise outside of that. As for learning how to engage with the opposite sex, there are ample opportunities for students at single-sex schools to interact, negotiate, discuss and compete with the opposite sex both during school organised co-ed activities and after school.
It is worth noting that 65% of Australian students attend government schools, of which a very small minority are single-sex. The remaining 35% of students attend just over 1,000 independent and Catholic schools. Of these schools, 7% are girls’ schools and 5% are boys’ schools.12 Put simply, single-sex schools are only a small sector of the education market. Yet proponents of co-education seem committed to removing choice for parents and students and depriving those who prefer an all-girl or all-boy environment the opportunity to make that choice.
Image courtesy of St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School
- Calls to end single-sex education. (2018, July 1). Courier Mail. Retrieved from: https://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/academic-calls-for-all-schools-to-be-coeducational/news-story/4401d6b8550f48995e495b704db174cf?csp=269bf3be04cda45644a9263fcd02752f
- SAASSO Survey 5: All Girls Schools. (2016, November 25). South Australian Association of State School Organisations (SAASSO). Retrieved from: http://www.saasso.asn.au/
- Institute of Physics [United Kingdom]. (2015) Opening Doors: A guide to good practice in countering gender stereotyping in schools. Retrieved from: https://www.iop.org/education/teacher/support/girls_physics/reports-and-research/opening-doors/page_66438.html
- Commons Select Committee [United Kingdom]. (2016, September 13). ‘Widespread’ sexual harassment and violence in school must be tackled. Retrieved from: https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/women-and-equalities-committee/news-parliament-2015/sexual-harassment-and-violence-in-schools-report-published-16-17/
- Sax, L. (2009). Women graduates of single-sex and coeducational high schools: Differences in their characteristics and their transition to college. Los Angeles: UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.
- Hart, L.C. (2015). Benefits Beyond Achievement? A Comparison of Academic Attitudes and School Satisfaction for Adolescent Girls in Single-Gender and Coeducational Classrooms. Middle Grades Research Journal, Vol 10 (2), pp. 33-48
- Cribb, V., & Haase, A. (2016). Girls feeling good at school: School gender environment, internalization and awareness of socio-cultural attitudes associations with self-esteem in adolescent girls. Journal of Adolescence, Vol 46, pp 107-114.
- Biddle, S., Braithwaite, R., & Pearson, N. (2014). The effectiveness of interventions to increase physical activity among young girls: A meta-analysis. Preventative Medicine, Vol 62, pp 119–131.
- Forgasz, H., & Leder, G. (2017, October). Single-sex versus co-educational schooling and STEM pathways: Final report. Melbourne: Monash University.
- 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
- 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.
- Independent Schools Council of Australia. (2018). Snapshot 2018. Retrieved from: Source: http://isca.edu.au/publications/snapshot-2018/