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WHICH IS BEST FOR GIRLS?

Much debate has taken place in recent years over whether pupils are more effectively educated in same-sex or co-educational learning environments. Some argue that there is no conclusive evidence that educating girls and boys separately improves educational outcomes for either group. However, advocates of same-sex education assert it provides a better opportunity, especially for girls. Traditional all-girls schools have been part of the UK educational system for a very long time. A more recent innovation has been the introduction of single-sex classes within a co-educational school. In this scenario, girls and boys are separated for certain classes such as mathematics or science, but participate in other classes and school activities together. Supporters of girls-only education cite a long list of benefits to girls in such environments, which are held to be true of both all-girls schools and single-sex classes within co-educational schools.

There is considerable research to support improved academic achievement by girls in single-sex environments, although some debate remains whether it is the single-sex nature of the education provided or simply its better quality. This higher achievement by girls in same-sex schools is seen globally, however, lending credibility to the assertion that girls excel academically in single-gender environments. For example, a research report by the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools (NCGS) in the United States found that graduate of girls’ schools “enter college with higher test scores, and once there, major in science and math at a higher rate than females or males nationwide” (Lamb 2000, 3). Jackson (2002) summarises the results of a study undertaken by the Ministry of Education in Australia, stating “both boys and girls in single-sex classes achieved higher levels of mathematics competence and demonstrated more positive shifts in attitudes than those of their counterparts in mixed-sex classes” (38). In the UK, the eight top-ranked schools for the General Certificate of Secondary Education examinations were all single-sex girls’ schools in 1999, and girls’ schools routinely out-rank mixed-sex schools in the exams (Jackson 2002). Kelly (1996), in analysing the National Consortium of Examination Results, found that students in girls’ schools significantly outscored girls who attended co-ed schools. Studies such as these show girls achieve more in boy-free environments.

But why would girls achieve greater academic success in a school environment without boys? One reason is that all-girls classes are more likely to be tailored and relevant to girls learning preferences. The NCGS study previously cited found that seventy-five percent of women who had attended girls’ schools considered them “more relevant to young women’s personal and social needs, while ninety percent said such schools were more relevant to their academic needs” (Lamb 2000, 3). For instance, examples given in a math class would be more likely to be subjects related to girls’ interests in an all-girls class. Girls prefer to work collaboratively, and are more likely to be allowed to do so in a class geared specifically to them (Burgess 1990). While boys tend to be competitive in the classroom, girls have been shown to be more comfortable working for a win-win outcome, where all the students in a group “win,” rather than one student overachieving the others (Jackson 2002). Removing boys from the learning environment decreases the amount of competition in the classroom and encourages female participation.

Not surprisingly, all-girls classes were found to be quieter and more conducive to learning. Given that “boys and girls mature and develop at different rates,” mixed classes are more likely to have boys misbehaving when girls are ready to buckle down and work on the material before them (Warrington and Younger 2001, 345). Studies have shown boys are more likely to participate in disruptive and attention-seeking behaviours in the classroom (Jackson 2002). Viewing several similar research projects, Warrington and Younger (2001) found that all-girls’ schools provide “an environment for learning and achievement, free from the distraction and harassment of boys” (340). Boys were found to often make fun of those who answered incorrectly, which causes some students to become passive and withdrawn. They also dominated discussions, causing other students to not participate. Female students repeatedly acknowledged they were more likely to participate and be willing to offer a potentially wrong answer in and all-girls environment (Jackson 2002).

This freedom from intimidation and harassment, including hostile and aggressive behaviour towards women, was found to have a marked impact on girls c