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What are the advantages of single sex schools?

The age-old debate around single sex schools versus mixed schools is back on the educational agenda once more, with experts from across the education sector still divided on the subject. The number of single sex private schools may have halved in the last 20 years, but the advantages of single sex schools have resurfaced yet again. This is partly due to recent news that girls in single sex state schools get better GCSE results than those in mixed schools, including those from poorer backgrounds. The SchoolDash research found that 75% of pupils at single-sex schools achieved five good GCSEs compared to just 55% in mixed schools.

These figures have opened up the single sex schools debate for discussion again. In this article we look at single sex schools pros and cons and ask which option really does provide the best possible education for our youngest generations?

The advantages of single sex schools

Why are single sex schools good for education? Many educational experts believe that girls and boys have different learning needs and that in single sex schools teachers can use particular techniques designed specifically to suit the gender of their school. Girls, for example, prefer collaborative and discussion-based learning while boys can dominate discussions and group-based teamwork. By using gender specific teaching techniques, staff at single sex schools can get the most out of lesson time and enhance the learning experience for their students. For a huge range of high quality videos to complement your students' learning visit BBC Active Video for Learning.

Some research into gender differences in learning even looks at how girls and boys respond differently to changes in temperature, suggesting that girls prefer warmer rooms while boys prefer to learn in cooler conditions. Single sex schools make it possible to adapt the learning environment to suit the differing needs of boys or girls.

There’s a widespread belief that single sex schools help to challenge gender stereotypes and broaden the educational aspirations of both girls and boys. Single sex schools enable girls and boys to feel free to learn and discover any subject, with girls able to pursue interest in male-dominated subjects such as maths and science and boys able to explore music and the arts. Indeed, at the 26 Girls’ Day School Trust schools and academies, girls are more than twice more likely to opt for science or engineering degrees at university level than girls nationally.

Are mixed schools the way forward? The other side of the debate

One of the main concerns about single sex education is that it could make it harder for girls and boys to relate to one another in a work or social environment later in life. The purpose of education is not only to teach children academic skills; they should be able to socialise and interact with members of the opposite sex to prepare them for adult life. There is a danger that children in single sex schools can view the other sex in an entirely unrealistic, ideological way. Critics of single sex schools claim that mixed schools are a far better environment for teaching children a broader range of essential life skills.

Mixed schools are arguably kinder and less pressured environments than single sex schools, with less gender specific intensity and a more balanced approach. In single sex schools, girls in particular can be very intense emotionally, which could potentially distract them from achieving their full potential. Some research also indicates that far from breaking down gender stereotypes, sex segregation can actually promote these stereotypes among students. By attending a mixed school, children could be seen to have a head start in life – a natural ability to feel at ease with the opposite sex which is essential for success in their adult life.

It’s clear that both genders bring a lot to the table in terms of their own strengths. In mixed sex schools, good teachers should be able to play to these strengths and maximise the competitive and dominant nature of boys and the collaborative, project-based nature of girls to achieve the highest levels of both educational attainment and social development.

The single sex schools debate – what’s the conclusion?

Over the decades, the single sex schools versus mixed schools debate has resurfaced frequently with strong opinions on both sides. Many head teachers and educational experts ultimately believe that a school’s strengths should be based on the quality of teaching and not purely on the gender of their students. There are many factors that contribute to a truly successful school environment and the gender of the pupils is only one of many contributing factors. As ever, there are strong pros and cons for both single sex and mixed schools. Perhaps the grass is always greener on the other side of the school fence.

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