Better together or better apart

gender schooling

Though the debate for and against same-sex education has been raging for decades, there’s plenty of evidence to support same-gender schooling, explains Tiffany Brown.

Modern-day same-gender schools make the most of up-to-date research to provide specific education strategies for their students. The benefits can begin as soon as your child is ready for school. Unfortunately, many girls in co-educational schools become aware of gender bias early on in their schooling. At a girls-only school, however, teachers have the ability to frame life experiences in a female context, according to Deputy Principal Justine Mahon of girls-only St Cuthbert’s College. She explains, “If a girl attends a single-sex school all the way through, she then has more opportunity to be exposed to strong female role models. The expectation that ‘girls can do anything’ becomes ingrained from early on.”

As her education progresses, the benefits continue. “In a co-educational environment, girls are more explicitly confronted with the adolescent subculture. In single-sex schools, developmentally appropriate programmes can be implemented without embarrassment, whether it be an introduction to sex education in Year 7, or a seminar on breast health or self-defence in Year 13.“ Girls are more likely to choose to study in “gender atypical” areas such as science, technology, engineering, and maths when they attend a girls-only school, and pursue these areas through to tertiary study and careers. Research bears out a noticeable reduction in numbers of girls choosing these fields of study in a co-educational environment. Mahon says, “My experience from 15 years in co-ed schools is that no matter how skilled the teacher, boys tend to dominate in class. In single-sex schools, girls are therefore more likely to take risks in their learning, proffer an answer even when they are unsure, and seek clarification when they do not understand the concept.” Proponents also suggest an increase in scholastic opportunities occurs because girls are likely to be more competitive without boys around, both in the classroom and on the sports field. This means they have the ability to try out and compete in a wider range of sporting activities, without any intimidation or domination by male students. When girls and boys are educated together, a phenomenon may occur known as “gender intensification”, where the subjects and areas of interest typically associated with one gender or the other continue to be dominated by that gender. In co-ed schools, it is suggested each gender monopolises the sex-stereotyped tasks and activities, so the gender that needs to practise new things doesn’t get the opportunity. At boys-only King’s School, classrooms are specifically oriented for the unique way boys learn. “Even the furniture the boys use in the classroom has been especially designed for boys,” says Principal Tony Sissons. The school runs a programme for juniors called PMP, or perceptual motor programme, which aims to teach a child perception and understanding of the self and the world through movement and motor activities. “Research has told us that if children are poorly coordinated and their brain is not ‘integrated’, then formal tasks necessary for success in the classroom are difficult and unattainable for many children,” Sissons explains.

This failure to integrate may come from a lack of the physical development necessary for a preschooler to complete the developmental progressions required for the brain to develop fully. “PMP is a fun, practical experience where the boys get active in floor exercises, fine motor exercises, and equipment sessions. It helps give children these foundation skills for learning that often they have missed out on – so the whole learning process becomes easier and achievement and positive outcomes are the result,” he says. Boys perform better at school if schedules and class times are flexible, allowing them to move around more freely during the day. At King’s, shorter-than-usual timetables are operated to cater for the boys’ optimum attention span, and students are not required to sit for long periods of time. Sissons says, “King’s School operates a very different day to other primary schools in that it offers specialisation to all its boys. This means that boys move around the school to go to their specialist teachers. We know that boys do not like sitting still for long periods of time. Allowing them to move around the school keeps them energised.” While girls may become more competitive without boys, boys tend to work more collaboratively without girls. With girls in the classroom, boys may take a back seat for fear of showing themselves up. Sissons explains, “One of the great benefits of having boys only in a classroom is that the boys are not afraid to ask questions. Girls often develop earlier than boys during the primary school years, and a boy will not put his hand up if he thinks he might be laughed at by one of the girls who may be developmentally more advanced than he is.” This confidence translates to increased involvement in educational activities, and in turn helps boys to bond socially with each other. “Boys of primary school age have a great sense of humour amongst each other and forge very strong links that we find last a lifetime.”


Same-gender schools aren’t for everyone. Here are some good reasons you may choose co-educational schooling for your children.

  • Schooling with both genders reflects the diversity of modern-day society.
  • Co-ed schools may better prepare students for the reality of tertiary education and the workplace.
  • Collaboration at a classroom level between the sexes helps build confidence.
  • Working together helps boys and girls learn from each other and breaks through any stereotypes about the opposite sex.
  • Teachers recognise and cater for gender differences in the learning environment.
  • Students at co-ed schools tend to feel safer at school, and may feel more accepted and socially comfortable.
  • It may be a more realistic way of training young men and women for the world ahead, and helps them build meaningful relationships.



  • A greater breadth of educational opportunity
  • Less pressure around sporting activities
  • Better opportunities to study in “gender atypical” areas
  • Girls may become more competitive and strive harder for success


  • More inclined to ask questions and seek answers
  • Schools likely tailored to the needs of boys
  • Boys’ enthusiasm and sense of humour can be fostered and directed positively
  • Boys may gain a healthier attitude to females at a distance
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