Comment Writer Madison Harding-White argues that the concept of single-sex schools is outdated in modern society
Historically considered the norm, single sex education accounted for just 6% of UK schools in 2018. Yet despite the relatively small number of institutions still running today, the concept of single-sex education remains popular amongst many parents. Some argue that the exclusion of the opposite sex from the classroom forms an optimal, distraction-free learning environment, but are any of these claims supported?
As someone who attended an all-girl’s school for the entirety of her secondary school journey (a very long seven years), I have anecdotal experience that these claims are unfounded. Whilst in my earlier years I appreciated the lack of ‘noisy, silly boys’ we still had our fair share of chaos: I remember rowdy lessons, passing notes and chatting behind the teachers back just like most people. Whilst it is true that my school was high achieving (the top performer in my county), it speaks volumes that the school in the 2nd place spot was co-ed. The single sex formation had nothing to do with my alumnus’ achievements – that fact rested more upon the highly academic (and highly toxic) school ethos, one which can be replicated with pupils regardless of their sex or gender. Don’t just take my word for it either – a 2014 mass analysis of 184 studies spanning 21 nations reliably concluded that there was no academic advantage to single sex education, with sex segregation instead breeding in-group biases and stereotyping. This further supported a 2011 neuro-scientific study which found no scientific basis for the teaching of the sexes separately or differently.
But what about the prevention of the ‘ever-distracting’ adolescent relationships? Not only is this notion uncomfortably homophobic as it fails to consider that pupils may date others of the same sex, it also simply isn’t true. There were plenty of girls with friends or boyfriends from the adjoining boy’s school, even with the campuses 20 minutes apart and without joint extracurriculars. Parents must be realistic – just because your child doesn’t go to school with the opposite sex, it doesn’t mean they won’t come across them, especially now most young people use social media. By preventing the natural face-to-face interactions between the sexes, you can only hope to achieve shyness and challenges in social skills, risking pupils struggling to cope later when in mixed universities and workplaces. What’s more, in my own experience, shyness co-existed alongside a fixation on boys, dating and intimacy – with these girls often delving in quickly due to the prolonged curiosity. The irony is ridiculous: attending a single sex school increased interest in boys for many pupils which is the very thing many parents are trying to avoid.
Beyond personal frustrations and worries about academic achievement, one of the biggest problems harboured in single sex schools is transphobia. The concept of selecting pupils based simply on biological sex is both outdated and non-inclusive as the policy excludes transitioning individuals and those who are gender fluid or non-binary- promoting intolerance and segregation within society. With the Equality and Human Rights Commission (2017) finding that 91% of trans boys and 66% of trans girls experience bullying and harassment, the last thing such pupils need is to feel unsupported or unsafe at school. In some positive news, it has been recently reported that several UK single-sex private schools are considering changing admissions criteria to consider pupil gender rather than sex in order, although this is to avert possible ‘legal challenges’ rather than a want for equality.
Whilst this discussion of policy change is a step in the right direction, I find that this simply highlights the lack of place for single sex schools in modern society. We should be championing personal freedom, personal choice and rights for all- yet instead we create an unnatural, exclusive and non-diverse environment suited only to meet parent’s wishes to maintain a level of control over their children as they age. I persist that males, females and non-binary individuals should learn to socialise with and tolerate each other from a young age in order to create the vibrant and accepting climate we strive for. I am certain that this is how we can ensure all of our children are holistically and happily prepared for adult life.