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Single sex vs Co-ed ....

(25 Posts)
MN164 Fri 07-Nov-14 00:04:15

Selfishly interested in what to do in the future for our DD. We may have a choice of schools ahead of us and single sex vs co-ed will be a big choice to make. I've posted on the Education forum, but there is a "feminist" side to this choice I'd love to read your opinion on.

I've read plenty of studies with look at academic and socio-economic outcomes, including longitudinal surveys. There seems highly divided opinion on what works best given the gender effects on curriculum choices and the way that children learn in differing classes. Opinion ranges from single sex is better, co-ed is better but also includes neither is that relevant to success and future wellbeing.

Reducing it down (and therefore missing whole swaths of the debate), I can see two side to an argument of "what might be best for a girl":

Single sex

- allows freedom and self-determination and confidence to grow in part because boys aren't there to aggressively dominate or disrupt


- reflects the real world from an early stage which will develop the resilience and determination to thrive despite boys/men

Or actually it doesn't matter at all and other factors matter much more.

Bluntly, as a feminist would you send your DD (assuming she agreed!) to a single sex school or not or would you be indifferent and, most importantly, why?

Nessalina Fri 07-Nov-14 00:13:29

I went to an all-girls school, and I found it essentially just takes gender issues off the table. Our school offered a wide range of subjects and gave equal weighting and emphasis to 'girl' subjects (textiles, home ec) as to 'boy' subjects (electronics, woodwork).
Socially I was completely inept at dealing with boys until I hit 16 and got a social life, but I don't think it did me any harm at all, and probably meant I concentrated on school a little more.
I certainly wouldn't hesitate to send my daughters to all girl schools if I have any, but also wouldn't be adverse to them going to a good co-ed school.
I don't really see it as a feminist issue tbh, but then I don't often dip my toe into these threads...

BOFster Fri 07-Nov-14 00:20:00

I love the idea of it, at my relatively advanced age, now that hormonal urges are not really competing with my affinity with other women grin, but I'd have said different as a teenager.

I still tend to believe it must be more positive for girls, BUT I am not sure that single sex secondaries really mitigate against the worst excesses of our patriarchal society, because girls understandably internalise so many of its norms anyway. They may well have more space to grow academically, but I get the impression that this can sometimes lead to a hothouse environment which harnesses the most damaging aspects of the societal tendency of girls/women to please, and thus can mean anxiety is a major issue. Anecdotally, there seems to also be a lot of intra-female competition and anorexia, not to mention a tendency to exoticise the idea of boys and be even more in thrall to their distraction.

I'm interested to hear other people's thoughts though- I have no direct experience of single sex education, just an impression.

phoolani Fri 07-Nov-14 00:38:46

I think there is certainly evidence that single sex does help girls achieve. However, it doesn't chime with my own experience; at 13 I went from co-ed to all girls and I remember being truly bewildered by how obsessed with boys all the girls were - they were regarded as some sort of golden 'other' to be vaguely worshipped. I didn't notice myself being more outspoken in class or anything, either. But then I always was the gobby one.

BOFster Fri 07-Nov-14 00:56:42

I think it's probably important to treat the situation holistically, though. I suspect the academic arguments are pretty definitive, but the question is whether the knock-on effects in other areas end up giving you a negative balance. I don't know.

Athrawes Fri 07-Nov-14 01:18:50

As a teacher I think it depends on the child and on the atmosphere in each individual school. On the plus side, all girls takes away the need to impress and be pigeon holed into girls subjects (but in a good co-ed this isn't an issue). The biggest concern I would have about an all girls is the bitchiness and anorexia and image issues - if the atmosphere and values of the school are not about respect for one another and are too competitive then this can be very damaging.

LittleBlueHermit Fri 07-Nov-14 03:50:29

There was a similar thread last month which might be helpful:

For my part, I went to a single sex school, and would happily send my daughter to one if it was a good 'fit' for her. The big advantage is that a good girls' school will encourage more girls to take up subjects like maths and science, as well as sport, and to have aspirational career goals.

On a social level, it makes it obvious that girls have a wide variety of personalities and don't have to conform to stereotypes. (I know this one sounds silly, but I remember complaining to my friends in primary school that I didn't want to go to a girls school, because teenage girls are boring and only talk about boys, clothes and makeup. blush )

On the negative side, it can lead to you temporarily viewing boys as an alien species. It wears off though, and doesn't stop you having proper friendships abd relationships.

icklekid Fri 07-Nov-14 04:38:00

Like bluehermit I went to all girls and it was only on reflection I realised how no subject was off limits. No one considered any subject boy friendly as there were no boys! A very high uptake of science and maths and technology probably much higher than girls in mixed school. At the time it didn't even cross my mind only when talking to others post school did I realise how fortunate I was. Slightly sad that there are not any single sex schools nearby (other than private) I don't have a choice for ds...

VioletStar Fri 07-Nov-14 04:58:10

In terms of socialisation, DD, who has chosen to go to the girls school near us (as long as you're academic it's outstanding allegedly), has a brother and goes to activities outside of school which is mixed gender. She'll have plenty of opportunities to mix with both genders, no?

ColdCottage Fri 07-Nov-14 05:19:14

I went to a mixed primary school and single sex secondary school.

Best of both, at secondary school we mixer with the boys school for the annual production (which was so fun too) and for 6th form. I also went to out of school clubs with boys.

Would do the same for my daughters. I didn't care what I looked like or who was in which class with me it was about the learning and as pp has said I felt equal in all subject choices. It kept school for learning rather than being a dating location.

I had no issues talking to boys as always saw them outside of school.

MN164 Fri 07-Nov-14 08:04:38

Thank you all for your valuable opinions. I am sure the holistic and personalised approach is the right one.

I've done a lot of due diligence on the options, which are many in London, and I still have some time to find out more.

I consider it a big decision for her to take and like to have as much information as possible. In many ways its too big a decision for a young person, but that's just part of my job as a parent - to help.

The hardest thing for me is trying to predict how she would feel in any one particular environment based on the primary school child she is now. Layer that with the randomness of future change, who will be in her class, who her teachers will be and what all these people will be like with her and it seems like a lottery!

I am worrying about the pressure/self-respect/self-harm issue raised here (and considered elsewhere).

The sad fact is that, given the widespread nature of eating disorders and mental health issues amongst teenagers, every school will have some pupils struggling and suffering. For me this means that very limited anecdotal evidence is of no use. Someone will always be able to tell me of a girl that suffered at a school that I am looking at. How the school deals with it is important and can be discovered.

How do I discover if a school has a greater or lesser than average incidence of issues (amongst girls, but boys can also suffer)?

Any ideas on that front? (not hopeful on getting those stats!)

BobbyDarin Fri 07-Nov-14 08:54:21

Probably the only way of finding that out is to ask someone from a local eating disorders support group. They probably won't have specific stats but may have a general impression. Schools probably don't record the information. You would probably need to make friends with someone before asking - they ought to be a bit wary of giving out information that could potentially identify their patients/clients.

Of course it should go without saying that it's unlikely that an eating disorder is fuelled entirely by socialisation at school. Any mental health issue is usually complicated by several factors, including life at home.

MN164 Fri 07-Nov-14 09:29:37

Bobby, that's a good idea. I agree that athe granular level I'm looking patient confidentiality is paramount and I would guess people won't take risks with info when I have "right" and only a remote need for information.

The NHS ought to have the data via GPs but the whole idea of "big data" and patient consent along with the billions wasted on failed IT projects means that may never happen either.

I also think you are right about the issue not being a school only issue. Other factors like home life will be strong causes.

Perhaps the best indicator I can get for the "school choice" question is how well a school responds to the question, how open they are about policies and incident history?

MN164 Fri 07-Nov-14 09:30:51

"No right" para 1


Boomtownsurprise Fri 07-Nov-14 09:33:26

Oh do give over. Find a decent school for your child. One with great teachers, art, sport, drama, close to you, with good support systems where you feel your child will excel.

The rest is at best irrelevant and worst horse shit.

MN164 Fri 07-Nov-14 12:34:03


When you say "the rest" do you mean the opinions of other posters on co-ed vs single sex and feminism?

BeeBawBabbity Fri 07-Nov-14 15:23:02

Looking back I think my own experience of a girl's school was positive. I took maths, physics, chemistry and went on to study engineering without a thought as to whether they were "girl" or "boy" subjects. I was a bit shocked to find so few other women on my degree course when I went to university.

I may well have made different choices at a co-ed school.

SundaeGirl Fri 07-Nov-14 15:29:22

I went to a co-ed school that took a lot girls in the sixth form from all-girls schools. The girls that came from all-girls were the ones that had to be checked in for meals, none of the co-ed girls did. And at the time it seemed that all the all-girls coming in put so much pressure on themselves.

BeeBawBabbity Fri 07-Nov-14 19:42:52

I didn't know of any instances of anorexia at all at my school. Not sure why that would be more likely than in a co-ed school?

SundaeGirl Fri 07-Nov-14 20:06:13

It just seemed to be. Fat girls cop off at co-ed schools. At girls schools (I generalise, obviously) not many people are getting off with anyone and I think a 'pretty girl essential' myth develops. That's just how it seemed.

However, I was at an academic school and the girls who moved there were the type to achieve/pressure themselves so this might colour my view.

sashh Sat 08-Nov-14 03:57:06

I think it depends on the child and the individual school.

My all girls' school was determined to make us in to the perfect RC wife and mother so 'boys' subjects were not taught at all.

iisme Sun 09-Nov-14 17:03:22

There's increasing evidence about the affects of the unconscious bias of teachers in mixed classrooms. They tend to spend more time with the boys and also interact with them differently - for example, as more searching questions, especially in STEM ('boys') subjects. This would be my main reason for preferring single sex.

iisme Sun 09-Nov-14 17:37:27

Also, I think the point about more girls choosing 'male' subjects is really important, not just because it girls interested in those subjects much better access to male-dominated careers but because it is a symptom of a wider effect: girls making choices about who they want to be and how they see themselves based on what's right for them rather than on confirming to social expectations of femininity.

turkeyboots Sun 09-Nov-14 17:53:29

My cousins were all educated in a single sex system. Academic successes followed all of them. Out of 9 girls 4 have PhDs in sciences, the rest have at least an MA or MSc in something. But that's in Ireland where co-ed schools are rare so not replicated in the UK.

The boys really really didn't replicate their siblings success sadly. Single sex schools were positively bad for them.

In balance I'd prefer to have my DD dealing with the opposite sex throughout her schooling, but want to see the school addressing issues about lack of participation in trad "boys" topics.

MN164 Mon 10-Nov-14 18:49:23

Further media attention today

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