It’s something every parent considers: Which would better for your child, a mixed or single-sex school?
With comprehensive, grammar and private schools all offering both options, it’s yet another thing to have to consider in the already stressful task of finding a school. And it doesn’t help that whoever you speak to seems to have an opinion on the matter.
But while there are valid arguments on both sides, especially when it comes to exam results, there’s one thing that single-sex schools can’t offer to children – and that’s preparation for the real world.
If you’re thinking about grades and grades alone, the pro single-sex argument is a strong one. The opposite gender is distracting (especially while hormones are raging) and there are few feelings as memorable as pretending to pay attention to the teacher’s white board when the boy you fancy’s head is in the way.
Another big factor is that of gender stereotypes, particularly when it comes to science and maths. According to a 2015 study by the OECD, even high-achieving girls perform less well than boys in maths and science due to a lack of self confidence, so it’s no surprise that it’s often boys that end up filling up these classes in mixed-gender schools while girls opt for humanities subjects instead.
So without the boys there to compare themselves to in these subjects, the idea is that girls have space to flourish instead.
And when it comes to actual grades, the stats back up that single-sex schools perform better (but they aren’t quite what they seem – more about this later).
So if you want your child to ace her or his exams and feel empowered to try different things at school, it does sound like a good idea.
But there’s one problem: School doesn’t last forever.
The problem with single-sex schools is that they provide a bubble. Perhaps an inspiring, focused bubble, but a bubble none the less.
It’s all well and good having no boys to distract you as a teenager, but unless you’re planning to work at a convent, the main thing school leads up to – a career – tends to involve interactions with the opposite gender. And the earlier you learn to interact with them, the better.
Imagine this: A boy and girl are flirtatiously Snapchatting one another from across a classroom instead of working. A nightmare, right?
Sure, it won’t be great for whatever they were meant to be learning in maths, but it’s not quite a nightmare.
Because besides ticking those curriculum boxes, it’s easy to forget that school is also about learning how to interact with other people, dealing with all kinds of social and academic pressures, and learning how to form both personal and professional relationships.
So ten years later, that once-Snapchatting boy might be sat at an office desk with a colleague attempting to flirt with him over email – but since he’s dealt with that plenty of times at school, knows how to handle it better than if this was his first experience with women in a work setting.
On the flip side, the same applies when it comes to performing in non-stereotypical subjects; a girl may have flourished in a single-sex maths and science environment and so wishes to become an engineer, but she’ll be ill prepared to enter a workforce that’s only 9% women.
And competing with boys in a classroom is quite possibly the best training you can get for being ‘manterrupted’ as an adult woman.
Because at school, you interact with other human beings in a way you never get to otherwise until you enter the world of work. You’re with your classmates through their highs and lows (and when they’re being incredibly irritating), and it’s excellent practice for the real world.
But only if it actually reflects the real world – which happens to contain a mixture of people; boys, girls, and those that identify as something else.
The pro single-sex school argument that comes up time and time again is that statistically, single-sex state schools get better grades overall. And that that’s important for a career. But since grammar schools are more likely to be single sex, the results are skewed, so it’s hard to know to what degree this is true.
So if we can’t make up our minds about grades, it’s more important that our children learn another very valuable lesson instead; to make friends of all genders from a young age, to see them as human, as flawed, and most importantly – equals.
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