You might agonise over the co-ed versus single sex schools question endlessly. After all, the world is made up of men and women, girls and boys, and every shade in between in this age of gender fluidity. And let's not kid ourselves. The world is not a gender-equal co-ed playing field. How will she learn to navigate this if she is in an all-girls environment?
Well it might surprise you how strong the evidence is for choosing an all-girls' school.
Gender bias1 is still a real and pressing problem for women in the workforce and women in general. And it affects schools in equal measure. Freeing girls up from gender bias at a formative stage in their education has been proved to have significant influence on girls' confidence and self-esteem. Countless studies have shown that from around nine-years-old girls' confidence dips below boys which affects the choices they make at home, school and work.
In an all-girls environment, the 'confidence gap' as it is known, is much smaller or even non-existent2. Researchers have found the things that generate self-confidence and self-efficacy are access to leadership roles, playing team sport and travel (local not international). So what is working in a single-sex school to deliver these confidence outcomes?
Girls in single-sex schools are not exposed to the kinds of gender stereotyping, unconscious bias and social pressure prevalent in the co-ed environment. What is modelled to these young women are all female executive teams – women achieving at the top of their field. Girls also have more access to leadership roles themselves since every leadership position will be given to a girl. So these students do actually live and breathe the "girls can do anything" messaging common in all-girls schools and it has a marked effect on their confidence.
On the sports front a study of physical education teachers found that without boys around girls are far more likely to play sport.3 They are more involved in team sports and remain playing for much longer. In short, away from boys girls are more likely to be relaxed with their own bodies, more likely to have a go without fear of not performing well and less likely to suffer low self-esteem and feel pressure to be thin.
Then we come to the way girls and boys learn.4 Girls can absorb larger chunks of information then work through it individually or in groups while boys are better with smaller chunks of information and more teacher-directed activity. Ultimately, this has an influence on how lessons are structured and in a co-ed environment, classrooms, duration of lessons, content and delivery must consider the gender mix and cater to the way boys learn as well as girls. Can you sense the hold-up for girls?
So then we come to STEM and the well documented gender bias towards boys taking STEM subjects and continuing on to STEM degrees.5 In all-girls' schools students are far more likely to take STEM subjects and do not feel the pressure that they are 'nerdy' or that in some way these subjects are for the boys and not for them.
So to summarise, just in case your head is still swimming with ideas about why she might miss out if there are no boys around
- The real world is not a gender-equal co-ed playing field
- Girls thrive in subjects usually nominated by boys (STEM, sports, physical education)
- Boys and girls learn differently
- Girls are more inclined to ask questions and be creative in their thinking
- They thrive without the social pressure boys can create
- Girls will have improved self-esteem and body image
- Opportunities for student leadership roles are more than doubled
- Plenty of opportunities exist outside school hours to socialise with boys
Mrs Deborah Clancy
B Sc Dip Ed COGE MACE
Head of Boarding and Academic Care