Single Sex or Mixed Education?
Which is Right for Your Child?
Should your child study at a single sex school, or in a mixed, co-ed school? This is a debate which has been running for decades, but the tide seems to be turning in favour of a mixed education. There are now around 250 fee paying schools which cater exclusively to one sex or the other, with 150 of those being all girl schools. This is almost a 50% reduction from the early 90s, when single sex education was in vogue and over 460 fee paying schools catered to that choice.
The head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, recently went on record as saying that mixed schools were “by far more congenial” than single sex schools – but how much does “congeniality” of school days matter in this highly competitive world?
The Case for Single Sex Schools
Despite Sir Michael’s words, single sex schools tend to out perform mixed schools in league tables and results tables, which speaks to the biggest purported advantage of such schools – boys or girls can study without the distraction of the opposite sex.
There’s no denying that, especially in the teenage years, a mixed school environment will lead to a certain amount of teen angst, competition, flirting and distraction. Supporters of single sex schools argue that cutting out these unwanted elements leads to a stronger focus and a better ability to study.
In a single sex school, teaching styles can be adapted to suit the different ways boys or girls learn, in a way which simply wouldn’t be possible in a mixed classroom. With much of the awkwardness and embarrassment factor cut out, supporters also argue that girls will feel more free to study subjects such as engineering, while boys will feel more able to take dance, arts and other “girly” subjects.
The Case for Mixed Schools
Supporters of mixed education hinge their arguments on the real world factor – in the real world, of course, men and women mix on equal terms, study at the same universities, compete for the same jobs and work in the same workplaces. Cutting children off from the opposite sex during their formative years can lead to problems with relating later in life, they claim.
Yes, there will be a certain frisson in the air in a mixed school, but that too can be argued to mimic real life, which is a positive factor. Children learn to deal with people of both genders, putting them at an advantage when they leave school. In a well run school, supporters of mixed education claim, there are very few problems arising from mixed classrooms, and lots of benefits in terms of emotional intelligence, integration, social skills and healthy competition.
Making the Right Choice
Steve Spriggs, MD of education consultancy William Clarence Education, is used to helping parents research and choose the best independent school for their child. “The key is to understand your child’s personality,” he says. “A mature child may well excel in a mixed school environment, whereas a less mature or quite shy child could find a single sex environment more relaxing and less intimidating.
Some independent schools have adopted the diamond model, where children are educated together until the age of 11, then educated separately to GCSE, then brought back together again for a mixed sixth form. In many ways this represents the best of both worlds, but there are still only a handful of such school in the UK.
Although the decision is often a difficult one for British families, overseas families seem to find it more clear cut. Steve Spriggs believes there may be a cultural element at work in their decisions. “There are pros and cons to both single sex and mixed education,” he comments. “The top schools in England have traditionally been single sex, however, and since these schools carry a certain cachet, they are still the preferred choice for many overseas families seeking a British education.”
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