Are single-sex schools wiser?
NEOFTHEmost enduring decisions parents have to make a b o u t h o w and where to educate their c h i l d r e n i s between single-sex and co-educational schooling.
We want our children to grow up in a natural environment and be prepared for the adult world — so co-ed seems to have the advantage. However, many studies indicate that results are better when boys and girls are educated separately.
In some areas, there is a third option — the diamond structure. Forest School in Snaresbrook in east London is one of a handful of schools in the UK which operates this way. The school is open to both boys and girls but throughout most of their education they are educated separately, while interacting socially.
The school takes pupils from age four to 18. Until they are seven, children are educated together at the prepreparatory school. Then from seven until they take their GCSEs they are in different classes. After age 16 the school is co-educational.
This, says Humayon Pramanik, the school’s head of communication, gives the best of both worlds. He recalls a tour around the school when he first joined: “I was shown a girls’ geography class. The girls were all sitting very quietly listening to the teacher and making notes, very independent in the way they were learning.
“Next door was a boys’ geography class. It was an equivalent class but they were being taught in a very different way; the boys were more active, there were group discussions; they were encouraged to get up and speak to their neighbours. The teachers use slightly different teaching techniques, even for the same age group.”
This separation of the boys’ and girls’ school has educational and social advantages. “It’s not just about the results; the way they interact and develop is brilliant. They can grow up without the pressures they might encounter if they were being educated alongside the opposite sex. For example we find that a lot of our boys are keen on dancing and singing and a lot of our girls like football. It may be the case in a co-ed school that if the opportunity of a dance class comes up a lot of girls might sign up for it, which in itself might put the boys off.
“By the sixth form, the ways in which the sexes learn is more similar and, of course, at that stage they are being prepared for university. When they get there they will be taught together. So it makes sense at that age. Pastorally they remain within the boys’ and girls’ schools, however.”
H a b e r d a s h e r s ’ Aske’s has a 100-acre site in Elstree, which enables the boys’ and girls’ schools to stand side by side. Classes are run separately with the advantages of single-sex education but beyind the curriculum students can participate in many joint activities, especially in the sixth form.
St Helen’s School in Northwood is a girls’ school. Headmistress Mary Short says: “As a single-sex school, we can provide each pupil with the opportunity to lead in her chosen field — as a mathematician, a physicist, historian, musician or sportswoman.
“We believe that girls learn best where teaching can respond to — and challenge — their intellectual development and their excitement in engaging with complex and demanding material in ways which reflect their academic and emotional maturity.”
However the pastoral side is also highly valued. Dr Short adds: “Academic work is balanced by a rich co-curricular programme and we enjoy close ties to our brother school, Merchant Taylor’s School, with whom we share a Combined Cadet Force, charity work, drama and musical performances.”
The most important thing remains matching the child to the school. Dr Short says: “Parents who choose singlesex schools recognise that their child will flourish and thrive in an environment in which they can achieve outstanding success; the crucial factor is to choose the most appropriate school for the individual child.”
In a co-ed school, boys may be put off joining a dance class
Boys enjoy a baking class at Forest School