Few would dispute that boys and girls are wired differently and consequently develop both physically and emotionally at different speeds, have different learning styles, as well as diverse motivating factors to inspire. Building confidence and self-esteem are key factors to attaining success in a child’s education. It is not hard therefore to comprehend why children in single sex schools thrive, since they are studying in an environment which recognises these differences and is consequently tailor-made in terms of educational setting and atmosphere.
Single sex schools have the advantage of being able to offer teaching styles, subject choices, sporting opportunity and a full extra-curricular programme, which are entirely focussed on either boys or girls. Competition within this setting tends to lead to a general acceptance amongst peers that it is ‘cool’ to work hard and excel in terms of academic, musical, sporting and dramatic achievement, whereas competition within a mixed environment can sometimes knock the confidence and motivation of those who are not out-going and extroverted.
As Richard Midgely, the Assistant Head of Bedford School explains, ‘Boys learn differently and express themselves in different ways. They are often less forthcoming in discussion groups than girls and need more coaxing. In a single sex environment, boys are less likely to be intimidated or embarrassed amongst their peers, and are more likely to contribute.’ In a similar way girls may find the presence of boys within the classroom intimidating, especially when they reach the teenage years and their hormones are running wild. At this crucial stage in their education, for both boys and girls, a mixed environment can be distracting and hence a barrier to learning.
With the dawn of Facebook and Blackberry instant messaging, children appear to be driven to grow up so quickly, often feeling social pressure from their peers. In my 13 years’ experience of teaching in both all girls’ schools and within the diamond model, a single sex school environment seems to allow children to just be themselves for longer, with no pressure to ‘perform’ allowing for their sole focus to be on their learning and building supportive friendships, which often last a lifetime. To gossip, laugh and play, without the pressure to grow up too soon.
Of course learning to thrive in a mixed community is an important part of growing up. This can however be attained just as effectively through social interaction outside the classroom. In my experience, all single sex schools deliver a comprehensive programme of mixed social and extra-curricular activities, often through building close relationships with another single sex school locally.