To me there is nothing abnormal about attending a school with 1,000 other females with not a male in sight. However, Richard Cairns' recent comments have sparked a fresh debate about the 'disadvantages' of single sex education. Well, as a veteran of an all-female high school, here are my thoughts on the matter.
There seems to be two different debates at play here, the academic values of single sex education and the social values. Mr Cairns insinuates that there is no real difference in the performance rates of girls who attended co-ed vs. single sex. The research would disagree with this, with girls' schools slightly outperforming girls of mixed schools. Yet even this data suggests that gender doesn't have that much of a say in results. We were always told at my school 'boys do better in mixed schools and girls do better in single sex schools.' The reasoning for this was that girls got distracted by boys and felt intimidated to participate in class discussions, thus studied better when the opposite sex was not present. On the other hand, boys were pushed to perform better when they had girls in the classroom. These conclusions came from the past teaching experiences of several teachers who I spoke to on the matter.
What I can comment knowledgeably on, is Mr Cairns' insistence that girls are at a 'huge disadvantage' because they are unable to interact with male colleagues. I couldn't disagree with this more. No considerable link exists between going to an all girls' school and a lack of ability to communicate to/ around men. My school, and I know other local single sex schools did the same, did their upmost to promote healthy relationships with boys our own age. From discos where one could slow dance with a boy to 'Puppy Love' to adventure days that pushed all involved out of their comfort zone, the opposite sex was never given this perplexing label of being an unknown phenomena that should inspire social anxiety when it comes to interacting with them.
I am also curious as to why this negative affect is only seen to impact the girls of single sex education, not boys in the same position. Why would it be that boys who are isolated from girls during their informative puberty years, would have no qualms with their female counterparts yet girls in this position have been suggested to struggle?
Having been to a mixed primary school and thrived with the presence of boys, my parents were worried about sending me to an all girls' school. However, I am glad that they did because there was there was, perhaps, more encouragement to do 'male' subjects. The issue of a more emotional environment leading to bullying, which is what Mr Cairns suggests, was certainly not my experience of high school. I found the presence of other girls more reassuring than anything and emotions were not criticised but understood. The local boys' schools, suffered from more bullying than the girls' schools. The presence of girls with varied hobbies and interests seemed to be more readily accepted than it was for boys; some of whom suffered from the judgments of their more stereotypically 'macho' classmates.
Single sex education is not without its own flaws. The issues that I did find with my gynocentric schooling were that whilst socialising with boys was not hard, it wasn't easy either. Someone at a mixed school could see friends of the opposite sex during class, break or lunch. However, we were left to fit this all-important socialising into out of school hours. Therefore, there was a pressure to make time to see such friends or you wouldn't have the chance to interact with them. I feel as though this stress is lessened at a mixed school for the reason mentioned previously. Furthermore, at times there were rumours and gossip (as there is in all schools) but it felt as though these stories would not have been given such attention and limelight, if they were spread at a co-ed institution.
Richard Cairns has arisen an age-old argument from its slumber, should boys and girls learn together or separately? I wonder how we will ever get a sufficient answer to this because if you take the academic standpoint, the results cannot truly consider the social/ emotional/ psychological factors and vice versa. It is my opinion that single sex education is no bad thing because the gender of your peers is only one part of your school experience: teaching standards, general school environment and the individual's self-confidence and natural ability will also play their part.