Girls prefer single-sex PE classes and sporting activities
It is widely recognised that during the early stages of adolescence, the physical activity levels of female students tend to experience a relative decline due to a variety of factors. It is important to note that this disparity in activity levels between genders is not a result of the girls themselves, but rather is influenced by factors such as curricular design, available choices, teaching strategies, and crucially, the overall atmosphere within PE programs.
Some girls in coeducational schools express a lack of enthusiasm for traditional sports and competitive activities that are typically part of PE classes. Instead, they find activities such as dance and fitness to be more appealing. In a study conducted in 2011, close to half of the girls surveyed indicated a preference for fitness-related activities over traditional sports units. The rationale behind this preference includes the individual nature of fitness activities, their relatively lower demand for coordination compared to sports, and their non-competitive nature. A significant number of our girls seek a more 'girl-centric' fitness option within single-gender classes, where they feel more at ease and confident in their participation, often alongside their peers and friends. They can also take up other fitness options such as informal Dance and Dance-Fit classes as part of enrichment clubs.
The connection between our dedicated teachers and our students fosters an environment where our girls feel heard, valued, and supported. Research suggests that girls are more likely to actively engage and collaboratively create positive and meaningful physical activity experiences when they have these supportive relationships with their teachers. Our teachers play a pivotal role in shaping the PE environment. While it is not surprising that the bond between teachers and students impacts engagement levels, it is worth noting that this dynamic also influences peer interactions. In mixed-gender settings, PE teachers must address not only gender-related barriers but also peer relationships. Single-gender classes provide an avenue for our girls to develop more positive perceptions and experiences within our PE curriculum.
Research indicates that girls who participate in single-gender teams often experience increased confidence and a reduced sense of competitiveness. Some of our girls have expressed feeling self-conscious at previous schools when interacting with boys and facing unkind behaviours that negatively impact their engagement. Girls have also voiced previous concerns about their academic performance being influenced by the presence of boys in PE classes. They often perceive that the presence of boys introduces a competitive element that hampers their own performance. The fear of being judged by male peers can lead to a reluctance to fully participate, potentially affecting academic outcomes. Creating an inclusive and supportive environment for our girls can lead to a greater expression of their unique personalities and capabilities.
The adverse effects of harassment, intimidation, and an excessive focus on competition within physical activities, PE, and sports can lead to disengagement among some girls. Embracing single-sex classes presents a natural solution to address these concerns within our Girls Grammar school community.
Dr John Fry
Deputy Principal - Studies