“Should I put my child in a single-sex or coeducational school?” Every few weeks I get asked this question.
Here is a recent example:
Dear Dr West
I am the mother of three boys. I am worried about my youngest son, who is bored at school. We have a couple of choices: a boys’ only school, or a co-educational school.
I feel a co-ed school would help him socialise with girls. There are no females in the family (apart from myself and the very dead goldfish!). On the other hand, a boys-only school might be better academically. I want what is educationally best for him – academically and socially. I am writing to ask whether research has shown one form of schooling to be better than the other for boys. And are young boys better off in single sex schools?
This letter was emailed to me recently, though identifying names have been removed. It is typical of many enquiries. What this mother wants to know is the balance of the equation. There may be academic advantages in putting her son in a single-sex school. But she knows there are social advantages to be gained from spending his day with girls.
This mother has a good understanding of the literature, which states that there CAN be advantages in educating boys in a same-sex environment. As girls volunteer more, and speak up more often, boys will often let girls lead a discussion. I see this happen very often in university tutorials. Boys watch how the arguments go, then wade in with an attempt to sum up. They would learn more if girls were not there doing all the useful work which got the discussion going.
On the other hand, it is argued that girls settle down to work more effectively if there are no boys present.