Deciding whether to send your child to a single-sex or co-boarding school is one of the main factors for parents when choosing a school. Whilst the majority of prep schools are mixed, there are a significant number of all-boys and all-girls schools. So what are the risks and benefits of singlesex education and co-education?

Boys and girls mature at different rates – they learn in different ways. Evidence suggests that girls perform better in subjects such as science and maths when taught alone, whilst boys perform better in languages and English when taught alone. Approaches to learning and to particular subjects need to be considered, as well as the different stages in adolescence experienced by girls and boys. Girls often gain more confidence from taking on the full range of responsibility and by selecting subjects on the basis of their real interests.

The importance of challenging girls and supporting their needs remains a key priority in an all-girls school, where there can be a greater emphasis placed on developing effective strategies for learning. Adolescence is obviously a time of change, but it is also a time when understanding and appropriate support are critical in the development and success of an individual. A secure working environment, where confidence and self-esteem can be nurtured, is extremely important.

Boys do learn differently from girls, teachers in an all-boys school understand how a boy learns and as a result are quite successful in implementing the special teaching techniques required to achieve optimal results.

However some critics of single sex schooling claim that the environment of these schools is artificial and hinders students’ development of social skills. The teenage years are known for being important periods of development and those who oppose single sex schools believe that this type of education makes it harder for children to naturally relate to members of the opposite sex.

Another argument made against single sex schools is that they do not help children to get ready for ‘real life’ and the ‘real world’ where, of course, the two genders do co-exist. The whole point of education is to prepare and equip children to thrive when they leave school. Universities, the workforce and pupils’ future lives will not feature a division of sexes. A co-educational environment is therefore reflective of today’s society.

One of the good things about enrolling students, especially kids in mixed-gender schools is the diversity that this decision offers students. If young boys and girls are given exposed to diversity in an early age, they will find it easier to adapt in different environments when they grow up. The diversity this set-up offers is significant in teaching other forms of diversity such as cultural and social.

A school with mixed students offer an environment that gives men and women the chance to express themselves and share their views which will teach boys and girls about equality when it comes to sexes. This is because in this educational environment, students are allowed to discuss and debate. As a result, they will be able to explore each other’s perspectives and their differences when it comes to views. This will make it easier for them to agree to disagree.

There is some research that reports that girls do better in single sex schools – so for girls attending mixed schools, this may be a disadvantage. However, obviously this depends on the personal nature of each individual student.

The most appropriate school will be the school with the ethos and the environment that will be most conducive. Girls and boys do have particular needs, and it therefore remains important to recognise that these are well met to ensure that the individual’s potential is truly fulfilled.

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