Finding balance in the single-sex vs co-ed debate

Finding balance in the single-sex vs co-ed debate

As parents are faced with a lot of choices when it comes to selecting a school for their child, they don’t think too much on whether these schools are single-sex or co-educational, a study has found.

The Centre for Independent Studies’ (CIS) latest report, which surveyed 1,010 parents, found that only 5% of respondents only consider whether a school is co-ed or not as a priority when choosing a school for their child.

What matters to most parents, the study found, is the proximity of the school to their home or workplace, followed by its academic standards and classroom discipline.

These findings might not come as a surprise as schools are becoming increasingly sensitive about the diversity in students’ gender identity. Also, many parents have voiced concerns that their children will have to learn how to get along with the opposite sex.

But some academics believe that single-sex schools have no benefit at all – or may even harm the mental development of students.

Benefits and results vary

Blaise Joseph, a research fellow in Education Policy at CIS, in his commentary on the report noted that various overseas studies, well as NAPLAN data, suggest that there is no clear connection between single-sex schooling and academic achievement.

In its 2017 report, ACER found no difference in NAPLAN results between Years 3-7 students attending single-sex and co-ed schools. However, data also found that students from single-sex schools can yield better results when it comes to numeracy and reading.  

A study conducted overseas, however, found the opposite: standardised tests indicated that boys from single-sex schools had “poorer achievement” in numeracy and reading while girls from single-sex schools excelled in math, science, reading and writing.

Another study which analysed data of 184 studies from 21 countries found that in uncontrolled studies there are “some modest advantages for single-sex schooling” with better outcomes in math, but not for sciences.

In controlled studies, there is “only trivial differences” between the academic performances of students from single-sex schools and co-ed schools. The study further took note that there are some cases which favoured co-ed schools. 

While students may have better luck in honing non-academic skills in co-ed schools, a study from the University of Queensland showed that girls in single-sex schools are as confident as boys, contrasting other studies that found girls’ confidence levels would be lower than boys when they reach high school.

How schools should react

Given that single-sex schools may have some academic advantage, the Alliance of Girls’ Schools of Australasia (AGSA) executive officer Loren Bridge said that co-ed schools should instead look at and replicate what single-sex schools are doing.

“There is no best or better school model it is about choice and what works for each student and family,” Bridge said.

But years before these reports came out; there were schools that had already adapted to the changing trends and preferences of parents and students. Mentone Grammar, which was formerly a boys-only school, is one example.

After the school started accepting female students in 2006, it structured its Kindergarten to Year 4 classes to be co-educational, and the Years 5-9 to be single-sex. The Years 10-12 classes would then be merged into co-ed again.

Single-sex schools that would like to remain as is can also still adapt to changing trends.

Ruyton Girl’s School, while remaining single-sex, would allow its Years 11-12 students to go over to Trinity Grammar for shared classes. Both schools also collaborate annually to produce a musical.