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Single sex versus co-education.

Which is right for your child?

Many parents spend a long time deliberating over whether to send their child to a single sex or coeducational school.

Weighing up the pros and cons can be useful in helping reach a decision. Here are a few things to consider.

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Pro single sex.

According to conventional wisdom and limited experimental evidence, single sex educational environments may lead to better academic results for some students. It is typically felt that the absence of distractions in the form of the opposite sex allows students to focus more easily on learning and be more committed to their studies. This is particularly so for girls, who supposedly thrive in an atmosphere devoid of competition for male attention or fear of social embarrassment.

Advocates of the single sex model, such as psychologist Leonard Sax1, point to the benefits of catering to gendered learning styles as a reason for its success. They suggest that boys tend to favour a more hands-on, practical approach to learning, whereas girls prefer more intra- and interpersonal learning styles. They claim this is one of the primary advantages of single sex education because it is easier to target one learning preference in a classroom than many.

Joanna Sikora of the Australian National University found evidence2 that girls in single-sex classrooms are more likely to take subjects such as sciences, which are often dominated by boys in a co-ed situation.

Girls in single-sex classrooms are more likely to take subjects such as sciences.

Pro co-ed.

Studies3 have found that coeducational schooling provides social benefits to students because of the more realistic nature of this setup. Students are part of a more diverse cohort and one that is more indicative of their future tertiary and workplace experiences. Therefore, they claim, co-ed schools ultimately set their students up for greater long-term success because they more accurately reflect the real world.

Additionally, there is evidence the notion single sex schools offer greater academic access is flawed. A review4 of the existing research suggests that not only is there no major educational benefit in single sex schooling, but also that studies around the world have failed to detect any major differences between the two schooling systems.

There is also the possibility of reaffirming rather than breaking down gender stereotypes through single sex schooling. In her book, Beyond the Great Divide: Coeducation or single sex? Judith Gill argues that educators with strict ideas about how boys learn and how girls learn often forget that there can be more differences within the genders than between them and that treating students as individuals rather than a group of males or females is critical to their educational success.

Any school with engaged, motivated, experienced and professional staff will offer a great learning environment.

The big picture.

While all the aforementioned points are useful things to take into consideration, they overlook the most significant element in student achievement: teacher quality. Education researcher John Hattie conducted an influential study5 that revealed the biggest impact on student performance, other than the students themselves, is the competence and dedication of their teachers.

Any school with engaged, motivated, experienced and professional staff will offer a great learning environment. When selecting a school for your child, perhaps put more weight on the calibre of its teachers than the sex of its students.

  1. Leonard Sax – Why gender matters

  2. Joanna Sikora of the ANU – View evidence

  3. View studies

  4. Read review

  5. John Hattie study

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