Many progressive advocates would welcome single-sex schools becoming extinct as alleged “educational apartheid.”
Nevertheless, Australia has a long tradition of high-achieving single-sex schools, in both the government and non-government sectors, and many parents still choose this option.
Proponents argue single-sex schools “…increase student confidence, provide a safe place for student to develop their identities and could be the answer to the gender gap in academic performance.”
It’s not a big deal for most Australian parents. Our recent research found a school being single-sex or co-educational was in the top two factors for just 5% of parents when choosing a school — but for some parents, it is a deal-breaker.
There is evidence students achieve better results in single-sex schools. Analysis of NAPLAN data by the Australian Council for Educational Research indicates girls’ schools and boys’ schools perform better on average in both literacy and numeracy than co-ed schools, even after taking into account student socioeconomic background (this particular analysis was a classic of the ‘we don’t like the results, so let’s not tell anyone until halfway through’ academic genre).
Overseas, some research has shown single-sex schools have significant positive effects on science and maths results for boys but not for girls, while other studies have found precisely the opposite (girls benefit but boys don’t), and other research suggests there is no significant effect for either boys or girls. OECD research suggests that in some countries there is a difference and in others there isn’t.
So the relationship between single-sex schooling and academic achievement isn’t entirely clear. But there isn’t any evidence that co-ed schools have non-academic benefits, such as better socialisation or preparation for post-school life.
Given the disagreement, the solution is more school choice, not less. Parents are in the best position to decide what is best for their child, and ideally should have single-sex and co-ed options across school sectors.
We don’t want to turn single-sex schooling into another culture war. Let parents make up their own minds.
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