Historically, most high-achieving schools in this country are single sex. Separating boys and girls for lessons is as deeply rooted in British upper-class culture as Earl Grey tea and mumbling. But we do not often question whether this is actually the best course of action.
The reasoning for single-sex education is clear. Boys, free from the distractions of the beguiling opposite sex, can concentrate on Trigonometry and Fair Tests. Girls are not fighting over the attention of the boys. Instead, their minds are free to concentrate on their own academic development.
However, this is not a realistic representation of the real world. It is patronising to teenagers to suggest that they will not be able to concentrate on their work if there is someone of the opposite sex in their classroom. We cannot manufacture a world in which boys and girls remain totally separate forever. It is unnatural and unrealistic to divide them for lessons when this is not a true reflection of society at large.
Independent schools are increasingly choosing to accept more mixed environments. This is a more modern, forward-thinking approach. Nowhere in life will boys and girls be completely separate. It makes no sense to separate them in school.
- The world is co-ed
Adolescence is a time when we learn how to be a well-adjusted, balanced human being who can work with others. When boys and girls are separated, gender stereotypes become more extreme and competition can be rife. Mixed environments are just more natural and comfortable.
- Boys should learn to see girls as intellectual equals, and vice versa
If girls and boys do not attend school together, boys only see girls in social environments. They do not learn to take them seriously or work with them on projects and tasks. They do not see them in academic contexts and, accordingly, as fully rounded and intelligent beings. Girls, in turn, can be afraid to be themselves around boys if they only see them rarely. This is something they must learn for real life. Boys and girls must learn to be friends, and not just see each other as sexual objects.
- Boys and girls can still be separated for some lessons
Certain lessons must be separated by gender for practical reasons. Physical Education, for instance, and some parts of Biology. This is still possible in a mixed school and can be encouraged. But it does not mean that girls and boys need to have entirely different experiences of secondary school.
- Boys and girls should be treated equally
If boys and girls are educated separately, there is a good chance they will receive different levels or standards of education. At some girls’ schools, science subjects are underfunded and students are not encouraged to take sciences or mathematics for A Level. If we want a level playing field for boys and girls in the world, we must begin with the way they are educated.