parent opinion

'I sent my child to a single-sex and a co-ed school. Here's what I discovered.'

On Sunday night, 60 Minutes Australia aired a segment looking at new research that found single-sex schools are no better for children than co-educational ones. The piece, called The Answer, spoke to Professor Lise Eliot, who used new neurological research to explain her finding that there is no scientific basis for teaching boys and girls separately.

Professor Eliot said that according to the research, segregation of the sexes may in fact hinder learning as a whole.

“Girls aren’t doing any good by just talking to each other. About how to lead and change things. They need to be part of the total conversation. Which includes men and boys.”

Well, I’m not an expert, not an academic, but I certainly know my personal answer to this age-old debate; and it’s different to what I thought even just one year ago.

I went to an all-girls, strongly feminist school my whole life. It worked great for me. I loved school, I did well at school. Despite being in a girls-only environment for 13 years, I knew how to speak to guys outside of school, so it didn’t seem to make a difference there. Sure, we were boy-crazy – but that was probably just me and my friends, not the lack of environmental testosterone.

When it came time to making a decision as a parent, I figured, well, it worked for me, so that’s what I want for my son, too. And it did, beautifully, for seven years (from age three-and-a-half).

Then, life happened, as it often does. At the end of last year, we moved to Sydney for my work with just a few months’ notice – and I decided to ’embrace change’ as they say: I made the decision to try a co-ed school. I thought, well, new home, new state, new school – might as well go the whole shebang and really ‘shake things up’.

In my utterly unbiased opinion, my son is a bit of a charmer, and has always been popular with girls we’ve known, so I was pretty confident that socially it wouldn’t be an issue for him. So, we made the change.

Now we’ve just finished three terms there, this is what I’ve found.

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At this age – 11 – in year five, it’s made absolutely no difference at all. My son has some girl friends, and he certainly has some girls call out to him when he arrives each day (of course he does #biased). But then he has mates who do that, too.

The girls and boys seem to be divided socially, still. They haven’t paired up in anyway, so from what I understand, and have observed, they still mostly socialise along gender lines.

In terms of in the classroom, I’ve not once heard any gender-based complaints that I was sort of expecting – there is absolutely no gender divide at all – and that includes in sports.

There’s just straight-forward co-existing.

So, it all just seems kind of… normal. Like, real world normal.

And the more I think about it, and face a decision about which high school he’ll attend, the more I wonder exactly why we would go back to single sex as we’ve planned.

I wonder if my son, who will have been with girls for two years by then, will find it strange to suddenly be back with just boys.

I wonder if Dr Nicole Archard, the Principal of Loreto College for Girls in Adelaide, was right on 60 Minutes last night, when she argued that single-sex education provides more opportunity for personal development… and I wonder if that applies only to girls.

Did I have such a balanced experience in my childhood because it’s different for girls?

Now that my son’s had the co-educational experience, will removing him from that disadvantage him in some way in his teen years?

I’m a sole parent – my son lives with a woman only – am I entirely comfortable with me going back to being pretty much his only female influence?

I don’t know the answers to my many questions; only time will tell.

But I do know this: the concept of single sex education – something I so strongly believed in my whole life – is becoming distant to me. As a parent who has always spoken the frank truth to her son, I’m questioning what I now feel is an artificial environment.

And not merely an artificial environment – an antiquated one.

Which is exactly the argument that the Principal of Sydney’s Barker College, Phillip Heath, made on 60 Minutes last night, when he explained why the boys-only school (since 1890) began to take girls in 2018.

“How can you promote diversity when you exclude half the population?” he asked.

“To suggest that the best way for a girl to thrive is to remove a boy probably undersells both boys and girls.”

Much to my own surprise, I can now say, I couldn’t agree more.

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