Co-ed vs. single sex school – which one is right for my child?

A 13-year-old girl who attends a prominent girls-only grammar school in Buckinghamshire feels ‘awkward’ when she meets boys outside of school. “I don’t know what to say to them,” she admits.

However, the same girl ‘loves’ her school and enjoys not having to deal with the distraction of ‘annoying’ boys in the class. She’s not worried about how she looks and can just get on with learning. She does not feel she’s missing out much.

ID-100103835These sentiments are at the core of the evergreen co-ed vs. single sex school debate. Sian Goodspeed, founder of Flying Start Tuition, shares some thoughts on the pros and cons of both.

1. The lowdown on academic performance
Getting your hands on conclusive statistics on either side of this debate is hard.
Research conducted on behalf of the Good Schools Guide in 2009 which analysed GCSE scores of more than 700,000 girls taught in the state sector concluded that those at girls’ schools consistently made more progress then those in co-ed secondaries.

However, other leading academics such as Alan Smithers, Director of Education at Buckingham University, said other factors such as social background and the quality of teaching played a much bigger role than gender when it came to measuring exam success.

In his own study in 2006, Professor Smithers looked at academic performance in single sex and co-ed schools across the globe, including Australia, the US, Europe and the UK. The study concluded that ‘half a century of research has so far revealed no striking or consistent advantages for single sex education.’

2. Different learning styles
One of the arguments often used in favour of single sex schools is that boys and girls have different styles of learning. But a recent DCSF (Department of Children, Schools and Families) publication on Gender and Education Mythbusters, states there is ‘little evidence to support the notion that the dominant learning style of boys differs from those of girls.’

The document goes on to say that studies have also failed to find conclusive links between gender and learning style. Where learning practices and preferences may be gendered (for example, girls enjoying group work etc), such preferences may be due to social norms, suggesting a role for teachers in broadening (rather than narrowing) learning approaches.

The conclusion? The overall quality of teachers and teaching is far more important than focusing on different learning styles.

3. Distractions by the opposite sex
As the 13-year-old girl in our example admits, she learns better without boys present in the class. What’s also probably true is that boys and girls are less concerned about choosing ‘un-cool’ subjects or afterschool activities in a single sex environment.

However, the other side of the coin is that boys and girls can actually learn from one another in some subjects and benefit from having the perspectives of the other sex on the subject they’re dealing with, such as the interpretation of literary texts. Boys and girls who do learn to work and play together from an early age are more likely to feel confident and relaxed in one another’s company when they eventually enter the workplace. Of course, this can be achieved in other ways outside school and acquired later in life too.

4. Do girls and boys become obsessed with how they look in a co-ed school?
As our 13-year-old example admits: she’s less worried about her looks in a girls’ school and she’s quite happy not to be burdened with this. However, looks and image can also be a factor in single sex schools with peer pressure to conform to a certain image. As we know, bullying is by no means limited to co-ed schools and often has to do with image and looks.

5. Are co-ed schools better preparation for adult relationships?
Because co-ed schools are a microcosm of society and allow more social interaction with the opposite sex, children in these environments will often be more confident in mixed social situations. However, if a single sex school arranges regular interactions with schools of the opposite sex, the same results can be achieved. Social interaction after school through sports clubs, etc can also create opportunities to learn to relate to the other sex.

There is no right or wrong answer – this is a personal and often a lifestyle choice. Far more important when choosing a school is your child’s personality, the quality of teaching and the range and variety of subjects and activities available.

Regardless of the school you choose, if you’d like to give your child a flying start to the new school year, contact us to see how we can help.


Due to the success of their last event, Flying Start Tuition have added another date for their FREE Success without Stress event – Tuesday 30th June, 7:45pm – 9:45pm. This FREE event is for parents and children who want to learn more about holistic ways of dealing with stress.

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