If you’re choosing your child’s secondary school, one factor you might be considering is whether to send them to a single-sex or co-educational school. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and both are worth considering.
You might well have come across the stereotype that single-sex education is better academically, and mixed schools are better for students’ social development. As with all stereotypes, this one has some basis in fact. Studies show that girls, particularly high-achieving girls studying subjects where boys stereotypically have an advantage (such as Math), perform better in single-sex schools. But for boys, and for girls in subjects that aren’t perceived as gendered in the same way, the results are less clear.
While single-sex schools tend to be overrepresented in the upper reaches of the league tables, that’s more likely to be because they are more likely to be longer-established, in wealthier areas, selective, or all three, rather than because they only teach one gender.
As for social development, the answer seems to be equally mixed. Single-sex education might foster sexist beliefs – but it might also gives girls more confidence in themselves. And it’s not clear how much this matters anyway; in the UK, few students at single-sex schools spend all their time only in single-sex groups. Socialising outside of school is generally in a mixed-sex environment, so girls and boys still learn how to relate to one another.
How To Decide
Like so many decisions about choosing the right school for your child, this will depend on their personality. A shy girl with an interest in Math may do better at an all-girls school, while a non-sporty boy with lots of female friends might prefer a mixed school. It’s important to ask their opinion, though be wary of the typical prepubescent dislike of the opposite sex – it’s unlikely to last all the way through secondary school!
Alongside personality, it’s worth thinking about what your child’s experiences are likely to be outside of school. Do they have lots of cousins of the opposite sex to spend time with, or a mixed-sex extracurricular activity they take part in regularly? That could ease concerns about their social development.
Still undecided? Some mixed schools teach certain subjects (typically Math, English and Science) in single-sex classes, in order to achieve the academic benefits of single-sex education within an otherwise mixed environment. It may be worth investigating this with your local schools if you think this compromise approach would be best for your child.