Are sin­gle-sex schools wiser?

The Jewish Chronicle - - JC SPECIAL - BY SI­MON ROUND

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

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