parent opinion

Everyone warned me not to send my daughter to a co-ed school. I wonder every day if I made the right choice.

There’s a fight going on in a suburb of Sydney you might usually only hear about when there are horses and hats involved. 

The local girls’ high school at Randwick, in the city's east, has announced it’s merging with the boys’ school next door. In 2025, instead of Randwick Boys and Randwick Girls, there will be only Randwick High. Since there is no co-ed public high school in this highly-populated part of Sydney, this move has been talked about for many years. Now the choice has been made, and not everyone is thrilled about it. 

Understatement. Headlines have said that the girls are “crying in the halls”, the student body has started a petition to try to reverse the decision and parents are talking about taking their girls elsewhere.

Funnily enough, over at the Boys’ school, there’s not so much fuss. It’s the invasion of boys into a female sphere that’s seen as the problem here. The boys' school has a worse reputation. The merge, for some, is seen as a catalyst for grades to plummet and standards to drop.. The boys are coming, and apparently, they’re bringing trouble. 

Girls do better in single sex schools. 

It’s such an accepted truth that to be a parent who actively chooses to send your daughter to a co-ed high school in Australia in 2023, is to be considered a little bit reckless. 

Boys are distracting. Boys are inhibiting. Noisy. Dominating. Badly behaved. Abusive, even. 

Better to have your girl at a place where she can focus solely on her work. Where female excellence is the norm. Where there are no such things as boys’ subjects and girls’ subjects. Where you’re not going to be laughed at for putting up your hand (at least, not by boys). And you’re not going to be objectified for your appearance (again, at least not by boys). It’s like Barbie world, without the Kens. 


Why would you risk anything else? 

I am that reckless parent. 

I actively wanted a co-ed education for my daughter. And for my son. It was important enough to me that it meant ruling out my daughter’s first choice of high school, because it was for Girls. She, at the time, was happy to go there. I put my foot down. 

The world is co-ed, I said, and still say. It’s a false paradigm to separate genders so that they can do good work. Out in the world, they have to learn how to do good work together. Might as well start now.

Watch: 5 Types of Parents at School Pickup. Post continues after the video.

Video via Mamamia.

Actually, most Australian kids would have already started, in primary school. The majority of Australian public primaries are co-ed, although we separate the kids into boys and girls at every possible opportunity there, too (“into two lines, everyone!”), at least they’re sharing the same roof, the same playground, the same classroom. 


It’s in adolescence that we really start leaning in to the separatism. And I know why. Now that my teenage daughter is in a co-ed school, I really, really know why. 

She’s 14. She has a boyfriend. She also has quite a few boy friends. And she has a gaggle of boys in her year who regularly give her and her female friends grief about everything from the lengths of their skirts to the spaces between their teeth, and plenty of more unsavoury things in between. I believe it might be called negging, although when I was at school it was just called being a dick. 

Some days, when she comes home and tells me, in that teenage gossip way that girls might lean into if all the conditions are exactly right, that so-and-so broke up with such-and-such, that the little idiot in the back of the class told her she was ugly today, and that some of the boys refused to kick the ball to the girls in football, I despair of my choice.

The energy being wasted on the drama of high school romance, I think. The messages she’s internalising about how to appease troublesome men can keep me up at night. The bullshit ideas about who’s stronger, faster, better that are seeping in can send me panicky. 

So why do I stand passionately by co-ed education?

Well, number one, I’ve already said. The world is co-ed. Learn to deal with each other, and early.

But also - I passionately believe the world would be a much better place if men saw women as people, just like them. Not a strange, otherworldly species with a separate set of instructions. And women saw men that way, too. Not as some kind of protected, superior or inferior group, but as the kids who they sat next to in class. Some annoying, some inspiring, some hilarious, some a bit scary, some clever, some creative. Some great friend material, some best avoided. This is how we fight the binary Andrew Tates of the world, surely, who deny women their humanity, and see them only as chattel. 


I also believe that gender is not so straightforward (boys are like this, girls are like that), when there is so much commonality and difference within each camp. And attraction, also, is certainly not binary. Not the kind that might keep you making goo-goo eyes at the object of your affection across the maths classroom. That will happen, no matter what configuration of genders you throw together, hormones aflame in adolescence. 

So will gossip and drama that distracts from physics and history. I’m not sure who needs to hear this, but girls have been known to have issues and problems and crises that have nothing to do with males. 

What about the argument that girls do better academically in single-sex schools? It’s still quite true. The statistics are outdated, but the most recent ones tell us that girls do better in traditionally “male” subjects, like maths and physics, in single-sex schools, and also feel more confident to partake in class discussions. 

To that I say: That’s changing fast, as all gender roles are, and we can’t teach girls to only be confident in their ideas and passions if there aren’t men around to compete with. Again, the world is co-ed. 


And I’d also say: School is about more than academic achievement. For a small minority, competing for the top places at the top universities, academia is all. For the vast majority, school is about so much more: Finding out what you’re interested in, what lights you up. Being introduced to new, unfamiliar ideas. Learning how to follow schedules and rules and social cues. Giving yourself the broadest possible base to catapult yourself into a future that excites you. Meeting people. Dealing with conflict and authority. Dealing with people different to you. 

Finally. There are the boys. What message is my son getting when he’s told that his very presence is bad for girls? That boys are somehow a toxic pollutant in a pure, female environment. That they’re, by design, naughtier, dumber and so dangerous that if you pour a few of them into a girls’ world it becomes so much worse.

There’s a reason that I’m not putting my name to this story. One is to protect my daughter’s privacy. And the other is because writing about anything as personal and apparently high-stakes as a child’s choice of school can be seen as an all-out attack on another person’s parenting, and there’s nothing so button-pushing. I can assure you, your choice is your choice. And probably, exactly like mine, it’s not perfect, but it’s what you’ve got. 

But for me, and my family, I believe we're better off in it together.

Featured Image: Getty