Last week, prestigious Sydney boys school Barker College announced its decision to become entirely co-educational by 2022. The school, which already accepts female students in years 11 and 12, has described the transition as “future minded”, with Principal Phillip Heath emphasising that the world will soon no longer be “defined by gender”.
In the wake of the decision, Australian supporters of mixed-gender education have rejoiced. Parents, teachers and students alike have spoken out in favour of the change, and in support of co-ed schools more generally. On Tuesday, Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen wrote for The Sydney Morning Herald about her own experiences in a single-sex school in Sydney’s northwest, suggesting that splitting girls and boys up “hinders social progress” in a world where we’ve accepted that “anatomy has nothing to do with gender”.
Like Nguyen, I attended a single-sex high school. Unlike her, however, I didn’t experience an environment that bred single-mindedness and gender stereotypes. In fact, I disagree with almost everything Nguyen says in favour of abolishing single-sex schools
1. Students perform better at single-sex schools
At my all-girls high school, I discovered an environment where I thrived intellectually. I had always been a keen student, but in high school I took things to a new level – I felt completely engaged in my learning, and more importantly, I felt confident, never like a “try-hard”. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the extent of research indicating that young girls perform better academically in all-girls environments.
Traditional wisdom regarding single-sex education indicates this is because girls are “less likely to be distracted by boys”. Nguyen takes issue with this perception, arguing that it takes a hetero-normative stance: surely, she asks, there will be girls who are just as “distracted” by their female classmates?