There were 2, 500 and then 400: this is the respective number of single-sex schools in the United Kingdom in 1966 and 2006, released by the Department of Education. It is this drop in numbers that has prompted re-evaluation of the perceived benefits of single-sex schools. However, these re-evaluations often focus on the achievement of grades. It ignores the sociological aspect as well as its consequent effect on gender roles, equality and relations. Thus, the question to ask is not whether they benefit academically but whether women still suffer as a result of being educated separately and whether as a result both genders become socially deficient. It also links to the greater idea of  dismantling  the patriarchal structure in order to build a whole new one to accommodate women.

The benefits of single-sex education are rooted in academic achievement and learning styles. It is not secret that girls and boys learn differently with boys favouring a more concentrated approach. In contrast, girls are proven to study over longer periods of time due to having longer attention spans. As a result, single-sex schools are perceived as better academically as proven by the fact that many are ranked amongst the best performing schools in the United Kingdom. In fact, girls in single-sex schools are proven to achieve 10 per cent better than their co-ed counterparts.

These benefits extend also to the social effects. An argument for many girls-only schools is that the students are more likely to be independent, ambitions and more focused. Without the distraction of boys, they are able to focus on work. They are also nurtured in an environment where women are predominantly in leadership position and this therefore becomes normal, giving girls the courage to seek leadership positions themselves.

Yet try to apply these supposed benefits to all-boys schools and there begins the problem with single-sex education. In going to an all-boys school, boys reside in a predominantly male environment where most of the leaders are male and they are more likely to partake in lad culture. Women are only seen within social contexts. They are not competitors in grades or sport or in the arts, they are seen at parties becoming objects of sexual desire. This reinforces the existing patriarchal structure and it is these ideas that continue through to university and the working world. It is always difficult to unlearn behaviour and thus, men and women of these types of schools are always at a social disadvantage.

To illustrate this point even further, one has to only look at the effects of racial integration in schools. By being educated alongside those from different racial groups, racial stereotypes can be slowly disseminated and what remains is the perception of them as whole human beings. This in turn benefits society on a larger scale with the predominately white structure being dismantled and more generations of people becoming less tolerant of racial abuse. Thus it seems by doing this with gender a similar goal can be achieved encouraging equality between men and women. Furthermore, the idea that single-sex schools are better academically has been contested in a 2006 study by Professor Alan Smithers; single-sex schools are often independent or selective and that tends to be the reason for why they are more likely to achieve better results than other schools.

It seems by allowing the genders to be separated they become unable to encounter each other on an educational basis but purely on the basis of common social interaction, for the purposes of attracting the opposite sex. Co-ed schools appear much more beneficial in terms of allowing boys to see girls as more than just sexual objects or figures of desire but whole human beings.

Educational interaction permits a view of women as potential friends, equal in the classroom in terms of intelligence and as competent in areas such as sport and the arts. It allows boys to see girls on an equal playing field that undoubtedly prepares them for the future and encourages them to build a structure that is different from the patriarchal one that exists today. This is equally beneficial for girls too in that they consider men through a wider spectrum and not just as potential sexual partners. Girls would not be solely focused on vying for male attention but would perhaps see males as competitors. In a single-sex school, there is a novelty that exists in regards to the opposite sex and by having them exposed to the other sex continuously that novelty can wear off.

Ultimately, it seems that the way forward is simply gender integration at a young age. If this is the generation that is supposed to be changing the status quo for both genders, then surely we should start with them recognising each other as equals from a young age? Because separate but equal as a rule simply does not work.



DISCLAIMER: The articles on our website are not endorsed by, or the opinions of Shout Out UK (SOUK), but exclusively the views of the author.