This September, following 502 years as an all boys’ school, Nottingham High School became co-educational by taking girls into both our sixth form and infant and junior school, before admitting girls into all years in September 2016.
So why have we made this move? Our planning began a few years ago. At the time we had completed the preparations for our school’s 500th anniversary celebrations and, in talking to the governors, we decided that we wanted to have a fresh vision beyond this significant anniversary. As headmaster, I was set the task of researching and presenting ideas as to how our school would look in years to come.
We started by looking at our aims to provide an education for life. We are very proud of our long history and our many traditions, but the school has always adapted to the times. Thus, in any changes we made, it would be important that the school reflects 21st-century society. The modern workplace sees men and women working alongside each other on equal terms and all universities are co-educational. As a Times Educational Supplement editorial of 29 November 2013 stated: “How can boys and girls learn to work with each other if it is made clear throughout their education that working together is detrimental?”
We then looked at the wider educational picture. There is a growing national trend towards co-education. Out of the 250 leading independent schools in the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), there are now just 25 single-sex boys’ schools. There is an increasing weight of research that shows no consistent advantages for single-sex education.
The girls joining us this year will be the scientists, engineers, doctors, lawyers and business leaders of tomorrow
The school’s desire to be the school of first choice in Nottingham requires that it constantly updates, upgrades and enhances its facilities and offering. The extension of education to include girls will broaden the pool of potential pupils, such that financial resources are maximised, financial viability into the future is protected and the quality of educational provision enhanced.
Since announcing the decision 18 months ago there has been a great deal to prepare in readiness for the arrival of the first girls. We have had to put in new toilets and changing facilities, decide on uniform, think through the pastoral issues which might emerge and much else besides. Above all, we have had to attract girls to join us. In our initial plans we had a conservative estimation that we might recruit 10-15 girls and an optimistic one of 20-30, so to have ended up with 42 girls joining our sixth form has been beyond our wildest dreams. Each of these students has bought into our vision, come in to experience a taster day and then worked hard to secure the grades they need to join. They have seen our academic and pastoral strengths and are looking forward to the opportunities ahead.
We are confident that we will build on this success in the future. Similarly, at infant level we have our largest ever intake and as word spreads further we are already seeing fantastic demand for 2016 entry.
Looking forward, it is hard to see single-sex education surviving in 50 years. I guess there will always be schools which are part of larger groups or foundations including both boys’ and girls’ schools, but even these will surely come under increasing pressure from parents who see that both universities and the world of work have men and women working together. Education must surely be as a preparation for life. The girls joining us this year will be the scientists, engineers, doctors, lawyers and business leaders of tomorrow. The experience they have in their sixth-form years of leadership, collaboration and team work will equip them for the world they will enter as bright, confident young women ready to make a mark. They do not need to be cosseted in a protected way in a single-sex environment and neither do our boys – after all, what university or workplace is this preparing them for?
Kevin Fear is headmaster of Nottingham High School.