A controversial statement by a leading headteacher has sparked a lively debate about whether girls schools put girls at a disadvantage. Sian Goodspeed, CEO of Flying Start Tuition and former teacher who went to an all-girls school, recently wrote an article for Chiltern Chatter on the pros and cons of single-sex schools.

Richard Cairns, head of Brighton College in East Sussex claimed that single-sex schools ‘put girls at huge disadvantage’ if they fail to learn how to socialise with boys. He also cautioned that girls-only schools can suffer a ‘degree of emotional intensit’ which may lead to bullying while all-boy schools tend to create artificial hierarchies where ‘only those in the 1st XV rugby team are truly valued’. Read the full article here.

In her article in Chiltern Chatter, Sian analysed statistics on academic performance in single-sex and co-ed schools.

Research conducted on behalf of the Good Schools Guide in 2009 which analysed GCSE scores of more than 700,000 girls taught in the state sector concluded that those at girls’ schools consistently made more progress then those in co-ed secondaries.

However, other leading academics such as Alan Smithers, Director of Education at Buckingham University, said other factors such as social background and the quality of teaching played a much bigger role than gender when it came to measuring exam success.

In his own study in 2006, Professor Smithers looked at academic performance in single- sex and co-ed schools across the globe, including Australia, the US, Europe and the UK. The study concluded that ‘half a century of research has so far revealed no striking or consistent advantages for single sex education.’

Differences in learning styles

Sian also weighed up arguments about different learning styles and distractions by the opposite sex in co-ed schools.

Although it’s probably true that the opposite sex causes some distraction, she says, the other side of the coin is that boys and girls can actually learn from one another in some subjects and benefit from having the perspectives of the other sex on the subject they’re dealing with, such as the interpretation of literary texts. Boys and girls who learn to work and play together are more likely to feel confident and relaxed in one another’s company when they eventually enter the workplace. Of course, this can be achieved in other ways outside school and acquired later in life too.

Although girls in a single-sex school may feel a bit less pressure about their looks and image than in a co-ed schools, looks and image can also be a factor in single-sex schools with peer pressure to conform to a certain image. Bullying is by no means restricted to co-ed schools.

So, are co-ed schools better preparation for adult relationships?

Co-ed schools are a microcosm of society and allow more social interaction with the opposite sex, which helps them to be more confident in mixed social situations, but if a single-sex school arranges regular interactions with schools of the opposite sex, the same can be achieved.

Sian concludes that there is no right or wrong answer – this is a personal and often a lifestyle choice. Far more important when choosing a school is your child’s personality, the quality of teaching and the range and variety of subjects and activities available.

Regardless of the school you choose, if you’d like to give your child a flying start to the new school year, contact us to see how we can help.