Single-Sex Schools: The Pros And Cons

Take a look at our pros and cons to help decide if your children would benefit more from attending single-sex schools or by having a mixed-gender education.

Are you wondering about whether to send your children to single sex schools? Will they miss out by not having a mixed-gender education, or will they do better? There are a number of strong opinions on either side of the debate on which type of education is better. It really depends on the individual family and child.

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If you’re trying to make that important decision for your child, here are some pros and cons of single-sex schools to consider:

Pros of all-boys schools

  • Tailor learning to boy-specific needsMany experts agree that boys and girls learn in different styles. An all-boys school allows teachers to make slight but significant changes to the way they teach – for instance volume of speaking voice, frequent checks of understanding to maintain focus on the topic, incorporation of motion into learning activities and use of mild team-based competition. This is effective in increasing boys’ engagement with the class material and their work ethic.
  • Build their confidence in the classroomBecause boys tend to mature later than girls, there is sometimes a lot of stress on them at a mixed school as they are constantly being compared to their female classmates. An all-boys learning environment lets boys develop at their own pace, without the comparisons, and helps them build confidence.
  • Encourage participation in non-traditional subjectsThere is a higher participation of boys in non-traditional subjects and extra-curricular activities at single-sex schools. At mixed school, many boys shy away from joining things like choir or drama for fear of being branded unmasculine. At an all-boys school, they can worry less about fitting a gender stereotype, because all participants are boys.
  • Reduce pressure on the non-sportyIn mixed schools, girls tend to dominate student leadership, organisation and academic honours. This means that boys tend to retreat instead into a more narrowly defined sphere of power where they can assert their own dominance– almost always sports. This tends to dis-empower all those boys who are not naturally sporty. In an all-boys school, all the power — and all the responsibility — must rest with boys, and they respond well to that challenge.

Pros of all-girls schools

  • Build their confidence in the classroomMany girls worry about appearing ‘geeky’ or ‘nerdy’ in front of boys, so in the classroom they are embarrassed to raise their hands and step forward with their thoughts. At an all girls school they won’t have this inhibition, so they may have more confidence to contribute to class discussions and ask questions, which will help their learning in the long run.
  • Reduce the amount of classroom disruptionStudies have shown that young boys tend to be more disruptive in the classroom in a mixed-school environment. When teachers have to stop the class to talk to them, it interrupts the lesson and wastes your daughters learning time.
  • Increase their opportunity for sport involvementParticipation of girls in sport clubs is a lot higher in all-girls schools. This is because in a mixed gender school, sports resources tend to be aimed more at boys’ sport participation. Additionally, around boys, many teenage girls are self conscious of the way they look doing sports, so will refrain from taking part.
  • Boost female independenceAll-girls schools can also contribute a great deal to female self-esteem and independence. Teenage girls can see that they don’t need boys to make them strong and powerful and that girls can excel in typically male dominated fields such as maths and science.

Cons of single-sex schools

As with anything, it’s good to consider both sides before you decide what schooling will work best for your son or daughter.

  • Don’t prepare them for ‘the real world’Some experts feel that a mixed school better prepares children for their future ‘in the real world’, where men and women aren’t segregated. When children develop relationships with the other gender, they are provided with experience for later on in life when both genders work alongside each other in all aspects of jobs and professions. The other gender isn’t seen as separate, strange or different, but as a normal colleague.
  • Don’t let them experience (and thereby respect) diversityAt school, children are taught to learn to get along with people from other cultures, races, learning styles, ages and backgrounds. It teaches tolerance and acceptance of people’s differences and ways of thinking. Why should gender be any different? Mixed gender schools teach students to respect gender differences and similarities from an early age.
  • Can cause gender stereotyping and undermine gender equalityOften, the only occasions that all-boys and all-girls schools mix is at school discos, prom and other formal events – times when both genders dress up and try to impress the other. This tends to sexualise the other gender, and creates unrealistic expectations of how men and women should look and behave in normal life. Single-sex schools can therefore promote gender stereotyping, and undermine gender equality.
  • Deny opportunities for mixed gender friendshipsWe have to respect that there are fundamental differences between genders – whether that’s socially or biologically determined. However, these differences are not the same for everyone. For this reason, some girls feel more comfortable making friends with a group of boys, and vice versa. This opportunity to make friends with a group of the other gender doesn’t present itself at single-sex schools.

How can you decide if single-sex schools are best for your child?

Sit with your child and make a list of what’s working for them at their current school and what’s not. If you and your child are seriously considering single-sex schools, see if it’s possible for them to shadow a student at a single-sex school for a day. If that’s not possible, then make sure you go and visit one on an open day. Your child will be able to experience the atmosphere for themselves and be able to compare it to their current mixed school. Additionally, ask current students about their experiences, and how they feel about being in a single gender learning environment.

Write up a list of pros and cons with your child and, when possible, try and reach a decision together. After all, this is their future and their opinion should be worth something in the discussion.

There’s no one answer that fits each child and what is right for your child may not be for another. With careful research and open discussions, you can find the right choice for your family.

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