A report on the Girls Day School Trust (GDST) perspective on girls’ only education (https://www.gdst.net/) maintains that “girls’ learning needs, styles and preferences are different from those of boys... girls experience the external environment differently from boys. In particular, even today gender stereotyping and gender differences in expectations and, often, self-definition, tend to affect girls’ behaviour, attitudes and choices, unless they are checked and challenged at school”. Arguing that “in single-sex schools, girls are less likely to conform to a priori gender stereotypes, less constrained in their choice of subjects, show a greater propensity to take risks and innovate, perform better in examinations, have more opportunities to show leadership”, they nonetheless acknowledge that “to be successful, single-sex education must be more than an organisational device – it needs to be underpinned by a set of principles, and articulated in a set of practices, whereby girls can be nurtured, challenged and empowered.”
The gist of the GDST report is that whilst there is significant research and evidence to suggest that girls’ schools positively affect teaching and learning, it is evident that not all independent girls’ schools find the same level of success in achieving high academic results and student empowerment. Separating students based on gender alone may have little effect. The success of girls only schooling comes from how girls experience learning. Whilst a generalisation and girl centric approaches will work equally for some boys, we need to embrace that gender differences exist, and girls and boys do learn differently due to the way they experience and interpret their environment. Those schools such as Girls Grammar that have documented success in advantaging girls do so by tailoring pedagogy directly at girls’ needs. This raises the question of what Girls Grammar does differently. The intent of single sex education is much the same for boys as it is for girls. Our students gain satisfaction from knowing they are learning and feel safe and secure in that learning. However, it is important not to confuse security and safety with comfort. Our girls are encouraged to feel academic discomfort, to take risks and to routinely embrace struggle as a temporary point in a longer learning journey. They benefit from collaborative learning in partnership with peers and their teachers. A great many benefit from being able to verbalise their learning without the fear of put-downs. In upcoming articles, I hope to share with you some pedagogical strategies our staff employ to engage your daughters in effective learning.
Dr John Fry
Deputy Principal (Studies)