Is There A Point To Single-Sex Schools?
Megan Baffoe, Aimen Barlas, Vella Hristova, Ri Nwoha
Education is the vital foundation of any country. It is the most effective way of cultivating young minds into mature, motivated people – those that may make the new discovery of the century, write the next Jane Eyre or finally work out a solution to climate change. Nobody can deny the importance of education– especially in our primary and secondary schools, where children and teenagers learn the basic skills that they will use in their further studies, future careers and everyday life. So, when we send off our youths to school, it’s important to consider – how educational will this school really be?
The actual validity of single-sex schools has been debated since the 20th century, but little has been done. Some believe single-sex schools to be outdated and old-fashioned, based on the remnants of older, patriarchal ideals that still, to some extent, control our daily lives. Others, in turn, believe single-sex schools to be beneficial, both protecting their children and getting the best grades possible from them.
Perhaps the most prominent argument when discussing the advantages of single-sex schools is the idea of ‘distraction’ – that, when faced with those of the opposite sex, students will be unable to function. However, with the rise of the acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community, this argument begins to deteriorate. Long gone are the days when same-sex marriage was illegal in the UK and “gay” was a dirty word, and with a multitude of gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, and more students attending our schools, distraction will be an issue wherever you go. Moreover, many believe girls to be too fickle and/or too emotionally inclined to concentrate in the classroom if they are too busy attempting to attract boys, while those same people perceive boys to be too hormonal and lust-driven to restrain themselves. This argument, as well as being extremely sexist, is unfounded: even in hormonal teenage years, lust and attraction are not medical conditions that cloud all common sense and self-control. As one father remarked online, boys need to be taught that it doesn’t matter if the girl next to them is in a bikini or a burka, it’s their job to sit down and learn their algebra as they should be doing. Teenagers are perfectly capable of restraining themselves, and whether or not they find the person sitting next to them sexually appealing, they should still be able to learn.
At the mention of lessons arises the second argument – that boys and girls “learn differently.” It is a common belief, even in the 21st century, that girls and boys have ‘different minds’. Despite the absurdity of this, statistically, girls and boys have notably diverse attitudes in the classroom.
“We arrive at one of the most robust paradoxes teachers face: the girl who gets straight A's but thinks she's stupid and feels discouraged; the boy who's barely getting B's but thinks he's brilliant... Encourage the girls, build them up, […] give the boys a reality check: make them realize they're not as brilliant as they think they are, and challenge them to do better.” 
While this difference in boys and girls learning is consistent and somewhat worrying, the fact remains that boys and girls do not need to be segregated to understand their own position academically. Independent reflection does not cease to be independent once the opposite sex arrives in the classroom; even in single-sex schools, students will need different forms of encouragement. It is the teacher’s job to deal with each student as they need to be dealt with - sex is not even an issue.
The last common argument for single-sex schools is that sex is an issue. Girls tend to be involved in traditionally male subjects such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or sports in single-sex schools, where they are less afraid of being dominated by men in these areas, despite their capability. Similarly, boys tend to excel in creative subjects such as English, Art and Music when there are no girls, as they are less afraid of being made fun of. A teacher at Townley Grammar remarks that girls are more ‘likely to flourish’ when they are ‘less afraid to share their opinions.’ Despite this, the main goal of our society should be to educate, not separate; instead of removing boys from any female company in order to make them feel validated in their interests, perhaps a better solution to the problem would be to explain to our youths that genitals do not dictate hobbies, careers, or passions. And, instead of building up girls’ confidence on the premise that boys will not be involved in the conversation, we should teach them that their opinions are just as valid as those belonging to anyone of the opposite sex.
“…Boys need to be taught that it doesn’t matter if the girl next to them is in a bikini or a burka, it’s their job to sit down and learn.”
As a further invalidation to the argument, our reporters discovered through interviews that interests in single-sex schools are often squashed through gender roles rather than the opposite, simply because they do not teach traditionally male or female subjects respectively. A student who attends a single-sex (female) school in Bexley that describes themselves as pointedly politically correct, an outspoken feminist activist and a Broadway musical enthusiast, shone light on this issue. ‘At my school, Food Tech and Textiles are compulsory through Years 7 to 9, but those subjects aren’t available to the boys in our partner school,’ they say. ‘The atmosphere is often really toxic in single-sex schools too.’ A mother of a Year Six girl searching for schools commented that she found no single-sex schools for her child offered the option of DT. Even worse, research shows that sex-education in single-sex schools is completely abysmal, particularly for boys. A generation of men that don’t understand how periods work only spells out bad news for female bosses, friends, lovers, employees, colleagues and co-workers when they need to buy a pack of tampons or ask for a short break to put on a new pad.
One thing that people can understand – whatever side of the argument they are on – is that the line isn’t drawn at periods or limited subject options. When only half the world is represented in the place you spend half of your teenage life in, you cannot help but grow up with a skewed world view. In a mixed classroom, gender roles can be torn down, sexist ideals removed and stereotypes challenged: the proportion of the population that are open-minded and educated can only grow. A world of girls who are unafraid to be assertive and confident in their own competence; a world of boys that are not mortified by menstruation and overly defensive about their masculinity. It’s true, single-sex schools can be filled with intelligent minds, excellent teachers, and be, as a whole, prestigious centres of learning. But, there can only be more to gain by allowing their students to learn about the other half of the world that has thus far eluded them.