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Why Boys and Girls Need Each Other

What is the purpose of education? Is it to develop academically or to develop children ready to face the world ahead of them? There is no doubt our children will be entering a very different world from what we are experiencing now and the question we must ask is whether we are giving them the best environment in school to achieve their maximum potential in the future.  The age-old debate around single-sex education versus co-education has not disappeared and there are many studies that can argue for both systems providing the best environment for the children to learn. I would never dispute the academic success of both systems and in good schools the gender composition becomes less relevant as the children will still be successful.

However, going back to my first paragraph, what is the purpose of education? In a school such as St. Andrew’s or indeed any independent school, academic achievement should be the minimum expectation of parents, however, it is how we develop the tools we require for the future that draws me to co-education over single-sex education. Having worked in both environments during my career, I firmly believe that the development of emotional intelligence is very evident in an environment where both girls and boys mix more consistently. There is no doubt in my mind that girls and boys complement each other and, in a world that is changing fast, gender stereotypes can be tackled in a much more meaningful way within a co-educational environment. The views of ‘macho boys’ and ‘girls being girls’ are very much being consigned to the history books, and a society that is built on mutual respect and greater understanding of the needs of others is ever more prevalent. The drivers in society for equality between females and males can only truly be progressed if we each understand the needs and complexities of the opposite sex. This is where a co-educational environment prepares children for the future. The ability for children to work collaboratively in an environment that mirrors wider society can only be a good thing for the child’s development. The interactions that take place between the girls and boys in a co-educational environment can dampen and remove some of the less desirable character traits that can appear within single-sex environments and allows a softening of the culture.

I often question the argument that girls will learn better without the distraction of boys in their classroom. This does a disservice to good co-educational schools and asks the question as to why they need this protection at a young age yet ceases to be an issue when they leave for university or the workplace. Does this argument really prepare the girls for the fast paced and ever-changing world ahead of them? Are we doing the girls a disservice with this view? There is also the argument that single-sex schools perform better academically. In fact, a study by the journal ‘Sex Roles’ highlighted that when you look at the child’s academic potential, the outcomes of girls and boys within single-sex and co-educational environments is not impacted. Many of the headline-grabbing results that schools publish are due to the fact that a greater percentage of higher performing children attend single-sex schools. This is why value added is so important and, instead of looking at these headlines, perhaps it is more relevant to look at the starting point of each child and what they manage to achieve in the future. That may give a more accurate indication of how successful a school is. In reality, schools can be good or bad for a wide array of reasons and not due to the gender composition. Excellent teaching, creating a positive school culture, and good management can all impact the academic outcomes of children irrespective of being in a single-sex or co-educational environment.

For me, a good school not only provides a strong academic base but also the social and emotional education that is required to be successful in life. Schools should be looking to the future and preparing the children in their care to meet the challenges ahead of them with confidence. We often hear the phrase ‘no substitute for experience’ and indeed by learning in a co-educational environment we are able to build up the emotional intelligence skills we will require for the future. The children will be allowed to learn from their mistakes and gain a greater insight into the social
responsibilities required to be a good citizen or indeed a good employee. We often talk about the differences between male and female brains, and this can be evident in the way we learn; however, good teachers make the learning experience bespoke and cater to the children’s individual needs. By differentiating tasks and the learning experience we are able to cater for all learning styles and abilities. Children are children and the gender stereotyping that takes place is not relevant in good schools; all children have the right to learn in a way that engages them and stirs passion for the subjects.

At St. Andrew’s we have a broad and balanced curriculum that encourages children to explore different opportunities and removes any stereotypes. The children are encouraged to be scientists, mathematicians, creative writers, actors, musicians, chefs etc. The progressiveness of the curriculum
allows both boys and girls to achieve in an area they are passionate about. Gender should never be a barrier and opportunities should be equal for all. As society continues to strive for equality, education must do the same. We are the guardians of the future and by providing a good co-educational experience for your child, we hope to prepare them for a successful and prosperous life.

Mr D. Fitzgerald