Educating Girls

The benefits of single-sex education

Dr Julie Greenhalgh

Over the past few weeks, the debate about single-sex education vs co-education for students in Australia has, once again, appeared in our media. Many commentators seem willing to pass their judgement on single-sex education

From the outset I must state that, even though I worked in a boys’ school for many years, I no longer see myself as an expert in boys’ education. Nonetheless, I chose to send my sons to a boys’ school and am pleased with that decision. However, having been the Head of Meriden for fifteen years, I feel well qualified to write in favour of single-sex education for girls. Furthermore, while I confess to being strongly in favour of single-sex schools, I acknowledge that there may well be students who are better suited to co-educational schools. This article is not written to criticise co-ed schools, but to argue that there are benefits of single-sex education which are being overlooked by some writers in the media.

At our school, all facilities and all opportunities are designed to support the girls. For example, the 1st girls’ hockey team is not relegated to a distant oval while the 1st boys’ rugby team trains on the main oval (an occurrence which I saw at a co-ed school recently). Furthermore, pedagogy for girls is skewed towards collaboration; the narrative is usually used to explain a concept. These strategies, and others, are used to promote the learning of the girls. I know that, for the most part, boys’ learning benefits from a different approach.

It is my experience that, at girls’ schools, it is assumed that girls will take subjects such as Physics and Extension 2 Mathematics. The thought that these subjects are traditionally the domain of the boys is irrelevant and, therefore, never mentioned. I, too, attended a girls’ school, and it wasn’t until I was happily ensconced in my Physics and Mathematics lectures at UNSW that I learnt that these disciplines are usually the domain of boys!

The argument in favour of co-education seems to be that it better represents our society. This is an unappealing argument, given how displeased many citizens are with the treatment of women within our society. If co-ed schools are meant to represent the status quo of our community, the parents of the female students should be seeking the single-sex alternative.

Over the past few years, some well-known boys’ schools have started to enrol girls. Introducing girls into a boys’ school to convert the school to co-education and to “fix” the culture of the school is evidence of exactly the reason that I support single-sex education for girls. The role of girls in a co-ed school must not be seen as the answer to any poor behaviour of the boys.

I hope that all detractors of single-sex education for girls are able to visit Meriden at some time soon. I am sure that talking with the busy, confident, happy and well-informed young women at our school will change their minds.

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