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The great gender debate continues

Brighton head says girls' schools are at a 'disadvantage', sparking further debate over single-sex education

Posted by Stephanie Broad | January 05, 2016 | Teaching

Girls at single-sex schools are well-known for achieving highly in exams, but do they have ample opportunity to network with boys and therefore be fully prepared for the outside world? Writing in Independent School Parent, Richard Cairns, head of Brighton College, believes they are at a ‘huge disadvantage’ in this way.

He writes: “…If girls do not learn to socialise with boys as children, what happens when they go out into the work place? They may have a clutch of A*s and a first class degree but if they cannot meaningfully converse and communicate with male colleagues they will be at a huge disadvantage.” Girls are just as likely to thrive in a co-ed environment, Cairns says, whether or not there is a boy sitting next to them. In fact, they can benefit from what each gender brings to the table. 

However, a single-sex education does not mean young people cannot communicate with the opposite gender, says the Girls’ Schools Association. President Caroline Jordan said: “Whilst Mr Cairns may find it unpalatable, the truth is that girls’ schools feature heavily at the top of the league tables for independent schools and have done for decades.

“It may also have escaped his attention that all girls’ schools provide plenty of appropriate opportunities for interaction with boys; in fact, it is rather old-fashioned to assume anything other. 

“Finally, it is not just the ‘brightest’ who do better at STEM in girls’ schools – a recent and extensive survey by the Institute of Physics found that girls in independent girls’ schools are 1.5 times more likely to study A Level physics than girls in independent co-ed schools [the figure rises to 2.5 in maintained schools].”

Education sector figures have taken to Twitter to denounce the ‘infighting’, agreeing with Jordan that the industry should instead value the choice that independent schools offer.


Tell us where you stand in the great single-sex vs. co-ed debate –send your comments and blogs to the editor.

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