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?
WATCH: Some experts argue that single-sex schools aren’t the best thing for kids.
Of course, if we’re talking about romantic distraction, she’s right. It’s just as likely that a student of a single-sex school will develop a crush on the person sitting next to them as a student in a co-ed environment. What Nguyen doesn’t account for is the other kind of distraction – the kind that’s less about making googly eyes at a fellow student and more about waiting for the boys at the back of the class to stop throwing books at one another before class can begin. Studies have extensively documented a disparity between the rates of development of adolescent males and females. That disparity is never so obvious as in a classroom environment, where attention span and levels of maturity can differ dramatically between girls and boys.