The debate around single sex versus co-educational (co-ed) will always be a controversial one. Everyone interested in education will have their opinion and although data would indicate that single sex girls' schools might produce the best results, it would seem to be that there is more to this debate than just academic results.
I have experience working in all boys' schools and co-eds and although I have not worked in a single sex girls' school, I strongly believe that the most important factor in all this is the school itself. While history suggests boys are stronger at Maths and Science and girls are more linguistic, I believe this gender divide can be bridged by an educational framework which is inspiring and uses a range of teaching strategies.
I have seen this first hand as both a teacher and through lesson observations, as the Headteacher of Cognita's North Bridge House School, it is the more social dynamic side to fully integrated co-eds that I believe to be so important.
Boys and girls going through their teens together is a far more realistic and healthy arrangement than either single sex girls school or a school where girls join the boys in sixth form. The teenage years are perhaps the most turbulent we experience and during this period growing up side by side as the norm and mixing with the opposite sex is a powerful and important life skill. Just learning and knowing how to interact with each other, feeling comfortable, going to parties and just appreciating from a boy's view that girls are not some 'alien creature' not to be talked to are vital factors in helping children to adapt to society as a whole.
There is pressure for all our pupils today in school - in fact far too much and too early. We have become a very narrow exam based factory where the 'whole' person does not appear to be as important as Maths, English and Verbal Reasoning! Girls also feel the pressure of exam much more than boys and in their teenage years exam pressure can become very intense with often very serious negative consequences. My experience in a secondary co-ed is that the co-ed situation does deflect some of this tension. If the atmosphere in the school is right, if the pastoral care excellent than I feel that the co-ed environment creates a vibrant, exciting, stimulating school but also a more relaxed and less stressful climate.
As a boy in a boarding school myself many years ago, which was single sex until A levels, the arrival of girls in the sixth form was the worst possible distraction to teenage boys about to embark serious exams. Boys and girls perhaps learn differently and approach work in different ways. If a school is aware of this and teachers can adapt styles and vary their teaching strategies - I see co-eds as both a more natural and realistic preparation for the fast approaching lesson of adult life. But in my opinion it should be from 2 -18.