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Is single school education best? (Discuss)


The single sex versus co-ed school debate. People feel strongly about it don’t they?!

As someone with an older brother and therefore constantly around boys as a tween, I loved the escape of my all girl’s school, where I could parade my braces and spots in peace. But I know even from my own friends that many of them are vehemently against single sex schools, thinking them an anacronism, a throwback to the Fifties, a bit weird.

It’s not just an issue for those who send their kids to private schoool either. In Buckinghamshire where the state grammar school system thrives, there are plenty of single sex schools. My oldest son passed his 11+ and had the choice between a co-ed and single sex school in the same town (he went to the all boys school). My daughter has the same choice next year if she passes the exam.

So I thought it would be interesting to open a debate about the subject – how kids learn best, the differences between boys and girls, all that stuff. Please get in touch with your comments, but to kick things off Ben Beardmore-Gray (above) the headmaster at the all-boys Moulsford School on the Oxon/Berks border (see my updated review of the school) has gamely stepped up to the challenge of making the argument for single sex schools. Take a deep breath Ben, we’re heading for choppy waters!


Single sex or co-ed? Discuss.

Well, you’re talking to a head of an all-boys school! But in truth I’d say don’t get hung up either way. People can feel very strongly about the subject of single sex schools, but I’ve been a headmaster at both single sex and co-ed and they both offer something different. The most important thing is that the school is good, not whether the kids are all the same sex – I’d argue that it’s better to send your child to a good single sex school rather than an OK co-ed option and vice versa. However, if you’re talking about two schools that are of the same standard, I’m a fan of single sex schools because they do offer such targeted education.

What’s the main benefit of single sex education then?

The most obvious advantage is that you can can completely focus your resources and teaching style – boys learn differently and behave differently to girls! So at Moulsford, if we need to recruit a teacher, we only have to consider how brilliant they’d be at teaching boys. Similarly if we want to or develop an area of the school, we need only think about how it would best benefit the boys.

Are the differences between girls and boys really that profound?

There are similarities as well as differences of course, but I’d argue that particularly up to 13, boys and girls have very different requirements. As a group, boys love practical teaching and competition – many of them are not naturals at concentrating in the classroom at this stage.  So where possible we aim to make the boys’ education as practical as possible, and use the grounds as a giant outdoor classroom – for example relay spelling tests, re-enacting battles in History, and orienteering around the school in Geography.  Girls are generally able to concentrate better, they’re more diligent at 12 to 13 years of age and probably respond better to the structured classroom environment. At this age, girls can be well ahead of boys in terms of maturity and academic performance – that’s not a great environment for some boys to be learning in.


Is this just a way of enforcing old stereotypes?

I think the opposite, that single sex schools allow children not to be shoved into stereotypes. Single sex education can free up children from preconceived notions of  ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ activities. At girls’ schools for example, you see a much higher take up of sciences than at co-ed. At Moulsford we have a very high take up of performance arts because the boys don’t see the choirs, drama performances and instruments like the flute, oboe, clarinet and the harp as being for the girls. In contrast, when I was head of a co-ed school, the girls dominated these areas by as much as 70 per cent to 30 per cent.

Isn’t single sex a bit old fashioned now?

I admit it, I went to a single sex school and boarded from the age of 7 and I don’t think I spoke to a girl until I was 18! Schools aren’t like that now and it’s just not true that kids from single sex schools don’t mix with the opposite sex or can’t be progressive and social. It’s great that there’s no distractions for the boys at school but we deliberately don’t have a Saturday school so that the boarders go home on the weekend, mix with their friends and family and lead a normal life, and of course plenty of our kids are day pupils too. I think social media, for good or bad, also plays a large role in connecting kids these days, whatever school they’re at.

But not all boys would suit an all-boys school?

Well, that’s true. A boys’ school does suit a certain type of child – someone who needs a framework to reach his potential either academically or pastorally. Most boys at this age would, given the choice, be out kicking a football around rather than studying, so it’s important to give them structure and guidance. We have very clear boundaries at Moulsford – we’re massively hot on manners, courtesy and discipline for example, as we see those as important life skills. We’re strict on homework. We have clear boundaries. We’re also very sporty school and encourage competition not just in the A and B teams but for all teams – we want all the kids to participate.

But not every boy responds to the same thing. If your child is a self-starter, he may be just as happy or perhaps more comfortable at a co-ed school where there is a slightly more liberal environment and freedom of choice, particularly for secondary education.

So what’s your advice in a nutshell for parents wildly anti single-sex school?

Work out what your child needs, keep an open mind and take a look at all your options, both co-ed or single sex. You’ll know the right school when you see it!

Moulsford is holding Open Days on Fri 23 Sept 10am – 12pm or 1pm –  3pm, and on Sat 24 Sept, 9am-12pm.
Moulsford School, Moulsford-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, OX10 9HR. Tel: 01491 651438.

















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