My teaching career spans 26 years, across girls’ schools, boys’ schools and co-educational schools. My experiences have led me to believe, without question, that these are very different environments, academically and socially. In the United States today, single-sex education is the fastest growing trend in the 21st century education landscape, with many parents recognising there is a huge difference in the environment of a single sex school and a co-educational institution.
Surprisingly though, research by the Centre for Independent Studies found that only 5% of the parents surveyed considered the importance of co-ed or single-sex environments when choosing a school for their child.
Studies show that the environment girls’ schools provide should not be under-estimated. In this week’s article, I would like to outline some of the findings that highlight why it is important to consider single-sex versus co-educational learning environments.
Released last week, a report analysing Australian and New Zealand Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) data from 2015 and 2018 reveals that girls at single sex schools outperform girls from co-ed schools on academic measures, social and emotional outcomes, and other aspects of students’ wellbeing. The report was based on 314 individual measures. Of these, girls from single-sex schools reported a positive difference on 227 (72%) of the measures.
The study found that girls from single-sex schools outscored girls at co-educational schools on every academic measure. Girls scored up to 10 percentage points higher on academic tests of science, mathematics and literacy and the same percentage on measures of science knowledge and confidence. Additionally, girls achieved up to 7 percentage points higher on measures of reading evaluation and reflection and locating and understanding information.
A 2019 study from Cornell University found that teenage girls achieve better results in mathematics and science when they have high-achieving girls in their class. This study found that girls actually do worse academically when they have high-achieving boys in their classes.
Both studies also found that girls in single-sex schools are also more likely to be aspirational and more likely to continue onto tertiary education and complete a bachelor’s degree. Analysis of the PISA results showed that girls in an all-girls’ environment have a 35% higher intention of completing a degree or doctorate. The Cornell University study concluded that the greater the exposure to high-achieving boys, the greater the negative effect on girls’ aspirations.
A 2017 ACER study found that students’ academic performance declines when they move from a single-sex environment to co-ed environment and continues to decline the longer they stay in a co-ed environment. Some factors why girls are disadvantaged in co-educational classes include the impact of boys on girls’ confidence, boys’ disruptive behaviour or a teacher’s attention being diverted to boys.
Wellbeing and social benefits
Studies have also found that all-girls’ schools provide significant health and wellbeing benefits for their students. This is because every aspect of a girls’ school is about providing environments and experiences that purposefully shape girls’ self-concept, build their confidence and support resilience and self-motivation.
The data from the PISA surveys revealed that girls in single-sex schools generally enjoy school more, experience less-bullying, have fewer disruptions in class, make friends more easily, and feel more like they belong than their co-ed counterparts. These aspects are vital for building self-confidence, developing self-efficacy and supporting social and emotional wellbeing.
Role Models and Mentors
All-girls’ schools also provide strong female role models and mentors, from current students, teachers and principals to Old Girls who challenge stereotypes by entering male-dominated fields or achieving success and leadership. These individuals not only provide girls with a sense of connectedness to their school communities, they reinforce the message to girls that ‘anything is possible’. The support girls get from these networks, while they are at school and after they leave school, is also a driver of wellbeing and resilience.
Actor and UN ambassador, Emma Watson attended Headington School, an independent school for girls in the UK. In her address to the United Nations in 2014, Watson said: “My school did not limit me because I was a girl. My mentors did not assume that I would go less far because I might give birth to a child one day”.
At Girls Grammar, we are committed to ensuring our girls have every opportunity to be clever, confident and connected. Girls are encouraged to speak up in class, to take healthy risks with their learning, to ask questions, share views and opinions, pursue leadership opportunities and develop positive, respectful relationships.
We are proud of our 129 years of providing quality education for girls. We know women can achieve anything and we thank our parents for giving us the opportunity to support every girl to know her strengths and enthusiastically embrace her future.
Cools, A., Fernandez, R. and Patacchini, E. (2019) “Girls, Boys and High Achievers”, National Bureau of Economic Research.
Henebery, B. (2020) “Girls schools have the edge in academic outcomes – study” The educator, Australia.
Henebery, B. (2019) “Girls do better in single sex schools – new research” The educator, Australia.
Kelley, S. (2019) “Girls’ education suffers when high-achieving boys are peers”, Cornell University.
Mogato, A. (2019) “Finding balance in the single-sex vs co-ed debate” The educator, Australia.