Until the 20th century, single-sex education was the norm in the UK, and it's still common in many parts of the world. Today, however, most state schools and the majority of independent schools are coeducational. Even so, there are certainly options to send your child to a single-sex school, especially if an independent school is a realistic possibility.
Both models have passionate advocates, but is there really anything more than personal preference to these opinions?
The Arguments for Each Side
The argument for single-sex education generally rests on two issues. The first is that, particularly in the teenage years, boys' and girls' hormonal reactions to one another can get in the way of concentrating on their work. The second is that boys and girls, on average, develop at different rates and have different preferred ways of being taught, so that a mixed-sex class will find it difficult to cater for both.
Advocates of mixed-sex education, on the other hand, argue that separating boys and girls at this crucial stage of their lives fails to prepare them for an adult world in which they'll need to interact fully with the opposite sex. This argument suggests that children educated in single-sex schools will be less socially adept as adults. There's also a belief that the presence of the opposite sex will tend to have a moderating effect on negative gender tendencies.
What Do the Statistics Show?
In fact, statistics show no significant difference in educational achievement between the two models. The only exception to this is that pupils from single-sex schools are more likely to get into the top universities. However, this is more likely to reflect the fact that a high proportion of the top independent schools are single-sex. On the other hand, no statistics have clearly backed up the claim that children from mixed-sex schools are more socially adept as adults. The only slight suggestion is that men from single-sex school background tend to divorce earlier. However, this could just as well be due to socio-economic class or typical career path.
In general, most studies have come to the conclusion that other factors in a school, in particular how well it's run, are more significant than the gender mix. For example, a well-run single-sex school will have strategies to reduce the students' isolation from the opposite sex, while a well-run coeducational school will be better at addressing the different educational needs of boys and girls.
What Does Your Child Need?
Needless to say, the weakness of statistics is that they necessarily ignore the specific needs of individuals. Even if an average child does as well in single-sex and mixed-sex schools, there'll certainly be individual children who will thrive significantly more in one or the other setting, and you're best placed to judge where your child stands. While this isn't a problem if mixed-sex education suits your child better, It can be more challenging to find a suitable single-sex school.
If you have a child who's shy with the opposite sex and may find it harder to learn in this setting, a compromise is possible. This is to supplement your child's education with lessons from a private tutor, either alone or in a small single-sex group. On the other hand, if you have a child at a single-sex school who might benefit from limited mixed-sex education, you could arrange them to have private lessons in a small mixed group.
Whatever your child's needs may be, register with TutorExtra to find out more about what your options are.