Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald had an article about the educational debate between co-educational schools like Newcastle Grammar and single-sex schools, which are predominantly in Sydney.
The issue has been in the news recently, given the work by Chanel Contos on consent and respectful relationships, in which the poor behaviour of boys from single-sex Eastern Suburbs schools was prominent. Plus, several well-established independent schools have, in recent years, moved from single-sex to co-education, such as Barker College, The Armidale School and Marist Catholic College in North Sydney.
If you read the article, you will find that supporters of single-sex education claim that it provides a safer environment for girls and a less distracting one for boys. And an environment in which students are more likely to excel in subjects that do not conform to gender stereotypes. For example, girls in STEM subjects and boys in creative ones.
This is not the experience of students at Newcastle Grammar School.
Every year we see girls excelling in all of the STEM subjects, all the way to extension HSC subjects like Maths and Science. Indeed, a few years ago, Seraina Danuser came 1st in the state for HSC Design & Technology. In addition, we see boys choosing to participate in creative subjects all the way through school and achieving amazing outcomes in HSC subjects like Music, Drama and Visual Arts.
Nor do the arguments about single-sex schools enabling students to perform to higher levels in the HSC stand-up to much scrutiny. As the article says, the exceptional performance of girls from single-sex schools in the HSC probably has more to do with their high socio-economic status than the single-sex environment. In a widely-published academic paper, Pahlke, Shibley Hyde and Allison (2014) found that: “There is little evidence of an advantage of Single-Sex schooling for girls or boys for any of the outcomes.”. A similar finding was made in 2017 study by Pennington et al, which found that “students do not appear to benefit from being taught in single-gender relative to mixed-gender classrooms…”.
Finally, supporters of single-sex schools argue that they allow students to flourish socially – “There’s no limitations, no stereotypes, so girls excel” (Paulina Skerman, Principal of Santa Sabina, quoted in the SMH). However, in reality these attributes are not unique to a single-sex environment. Indeed, Iris Nastasi of Rosebank College in Five Dock argues that co-educational“schools have a unique opportunity to be very proactive in a very safe environment and educate both boys and girls together.”Also, at Newcastle Grammar we do this within the context of our Positive Education and Visible Wellbeing environments, in which students’ wellbeing is highly valued and carefully nurtured.
Perhaps the final word should rest with a comment from ’Magpie59’ underneath the article. They kept it short: “Life is co-ed.”
Baker(2021) Which is Better: Single-sex or Co-ed Schools?Sydney Morning Herald; Education: Are single-sex or co-ed schools better? (smh.com.au); Accessed on 10 May
Pahlke, Shibley Hyde, Allison(2014) The Effects of Single-Sex Compared With Coeducational Schooling on Students’ Performance and Attitudes: A Meta-Analysis; Psychological Bulletin; 140(4) The Effects of Single-Sex Compared With Coeducational Schooling on Students' Performance and Attitudes (apa.org); Accessed on 10 May
Pennington, et al(2017)Controlling For Prior Attainment Reduces The Positive Influence That Single Gender Classroom Initiatives Exert On High School Students Scholastic Achievements; Sex Roles(78) Controlling for Prior Attainment Reduces the Positive Influence that Single-Gender Classroom Initiatives Exert on High School Students’ Scholastic Achievements (springer.com); Accessed on 10 May