Social, emotional and health benefits

• American researcher Laura Hart (2015) found that all-girl classes may provide non-academic benefits that help girls through the critical middle school years when they are struggling with social interactions relating to adolescence. Hart’s three-year study found that “student satisfaction with school was significantly higher for participants in the single-gender group” (p. 42). Overall (pp. 42-43):

  • 77.3% indicated that being in the all-girl classes had helped them “learn better”
  • 70.6% said that behaviour in the all-girl classes was better than in mixed-gender classes
  • 86.6% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I enjoyed being in the single-gender classroom this year”
  • 73.3% agreed or strongly agreed that they would recommend all-girl classes to new students.

Hart concluded that “a single-gender classroom environment where girls are comfortable and satisfied with their learning experience may ultimately prove to be more beneficial than any instructional strategy” (p. 44).

• A 2016 study by Victoria Cribb and Dr Anne Haase from Bristol University (UK) found that girls in co-educational schools have lower self-esteem and feel more pressure to be thin than girls in single-sex schools (p. 111). It was also found that single-sex schools encourage “improved self-esteem, psychological and social wellbeing in adolescent girls” (p. 112).

• A US study has found that less than 1% of female students in single-sex schools experience bullying, compared with 21% of female students in co-ed schools (Johnson & Gastic, 2014, p. 128). In addition, girls at single-sex schools are not only more likely to be gender nonconforming than girls at co-ed schools (p. 134), but also “significantly less likely to be bullied” (p. 133) for preferring ‘masculine’ sports (including football, baseball and basketball) over ‘feminine’ sports and activities (including softball, cheerleading, choir and art classes) (p. 129). In fact, say the authors, “single-sex schools emerge as a protective factor for female gender nonconforming girls” (p. 126).

• A 2015 report by Britain’s Institute of Physics has found that co-educational schools need to do more to tackle sexist banter and attitudes that discourage girls from pursuing careers in science. While the Opening Doors report found that all schools had policies to counter racist, sexist and homophobic language, sexist language was often dismissed as “harmless banter” though “many of the students, particularly girls, did not see it as such” and that “in extreme cases, it verged on bullying”. Some of the other findings include that:

  • “Some schools, mindful of bad behaviour from boys, had policies of alternate boy-girl seating, effectively using the girls as buffers to keep the boys apart. In general the girls noticed and resented this policy.”
  • While girls had access to the full range of sporting activities at some schools, in other schools “girls resented being prevented from taking certain sports considered unsuitable for them”.

• A 2016 British Parliament inquiry found that girls in co-ed high schools are subjected to daily sexual harassment (including 29% of girls aged 16-18 who experience unwanted sexual touching at school) and are the victims of implicit bias by teachers who steer girls away from ‘hard’ subjects like advanced maths, physics and computer science (Commons Select Committee [United Kingdom], 2016, September 13).

• A recent meta-analysis of 22 studies found that the largest increases in sports participation occurred in studies where interventions were based on single-sex activities. In particular, interventions that targeted girls, rather than girls and boys together, had a “higher effect size”. The study authors noted that this effect was not just present in adolescent girls, who may be experiencing body image concerns, but also in younger girls. They concluded that “ongoing physical education and other structured physical activity contexts might require greater use of single sex provision (Biddle, Braithwaite & Pearson, 2014, p. 129).

• An Australian study found that 82% of participant teachers “perceived single-sex contexts to be more effective in achieving higher student participation and performance levels” in Physical Education (PE) classes (Best, Pearson & Webb, 2010, p. 1021). In addition, 79% believed that single-sex PE classes allowed students “to reach their full performance potential” (p. 1020). Factors including distractions, harassment, embarrassment, competitiveness and uneven strength levels had a greater negative influence on students’ participation in PE in co-educational settings. Overall, “the dominant view within this study … is that single-sex PE environments are, in the majority of circumstances, the most supportive classroom structure for achieving higher student participation and performance levels” (p. 1026).

• Jared Rawlings (2015, pp. 60, 120) writes that a number of studies have demonstrated that adolescents playing musical instruments at co-educational schools can be victims of verbal aggression, bullying behaviours and harassment when there is a “stereotypical mismatch between biological sex and chosen musical instrument”. In one of the few studies to examine music instrument gender associations in girls’ schools, Sommer Buttu found that while girls attending an all-girls school in Ontario were aware of “culturally constructed gender stereotypes associated with musical instruments”, they “did not report feelings of chronic victimization” (Rawlings, 2015, p. 37). Buttu found that girls in an all-girl environment did not feel the impact of gender stereotypes associated with certain instruments, but instead “tended to report that ‘girls can do anything’, especially in a safe and supportive environment” (Ontario Education Research Exchange, n.d., pp. 1-2).

• A study of single-sex public schools prepared for the US Department of Education found that there are many social and emotional benefits for girls who attend single-sex schools. Researchers using observational techniques found that: Site visitors observed more positive academic and behavioral interactions between teachers and students in the single-sex schools than in the comparison coed [sic] schools” (Riordan et al., 2008, p. x). In the same study, researchers systematically reviewed the literature on single-sex education and concluded that: “Overall there were more social-emotional outcomes favoring single-sex schools” (Riordan et al., 2008, p. xi).

• Another American study also found a “positive impact of single-sex schooling on the academic, attitudinal, and social achievement levels of students, especially female students” (Morrell, 2009, p. 194).

• More recently, a 2014 study found that 97.0% of girls attending NCGS schools in the US felt safe at their schools. Of these, 69.4% strongly agreed that they felt safe, compared to 55.1% of girls at co-ed independent schools and just 17.1% of girls at co-ed public schools. In addition, 88.6% of girls at NCGS schools reported feeling comfortable “being themselves” at their school. Of these 43.7% strongly agreed that they felt comfortable. In contrast, 35.4% of girls at co-ed independent and 18.3% of girls at co-ed public schools strongly agreed that they felt comfortable at their school (Holmgren, 2014, p. 6).

• The NCGS report also stated that: “Students attending all-girl schools experience higher levels of support from their classmates, teachers, and administrators than do their female peers at coeducational [sic] public schools”, with 89.9% feeling supported by other students and 94.6% feeling supported by their teachers. In co-ed public schools, 73.1% felt supported by other students and 84.1% felt supported by their teachers (p 8).