It’s a question that crosses every parent’s mind and one that has been extensively debated over the years — whether to send your child to a single-sex or co-educational school. While public schools in Australia are more likely to be co-ed, parents seeking private education have more variety when making the call, with single-sex schools concentrated in the fee-paying sector. But is the significant presence of them sufficient to conclude that they are the more popular option? Not necessarily.
Recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics highlights that the number of school students in single-sex schools is declining.
The study shows that the proportion of students from independent schools who attend single-sex schools has declined from 31 per cent in 1985 to 24 per cent in 1995.
And according to data from My Schools, two years ago this number fell to just 12 per cent.
The case for co-ed
The question to ask then is: Why are parents choosing co-educational schools over single-sex ones? The most common answer is that it sets students up for life outside the shelter of school and facilitates the development of healthy relationships with the opposite sex. Co-educational schools give students the opportunity to develop respect and understanding for the opposite sex, and that’s certainly a fair point. Life in the ‘real world’ as they say, requires children to be ready for all types of gender dynamics and engaging children in this from a young age seems like the most logical thing to do. After all, whatever field they choose to pursue, the ability to engage with people of the opposite sex confidently and professionally, is a skill that should be taught young.
Except not everyone agrees.
There’s a flip side
While co-educational schools can undoubtedly give children a lot of exposure to gender dynamics, they can also in some instances, reiterate harmful stereotypes. For example, girls may be hesitant to join activities that are traditionally dominated by males, such as particular sports or subjects. Similarly, boys may be reluctant to take up opportunities that are dominated by girls from the fear of looking feminine.
There’s also the issue of participation. Supporters of single-sex schools argue that children are more likely to thrive and participate in an environment where they don’t fear judgment or embarrassment from the opposite sex. The benefits of this can be easy to imagine when you think of topics such as sex education or discussions of equality. Students may be more likely to participate and give their honest views when in the company of their sex.
The choice is yours
While research has been done to support both sides and will undoubtedly continue to be released, ultimately the decision should be based on your child. If your child is someone who may be intimidated due to being the only boy or girl in a field dominated by the opposite sex, perhaps a single-sex school is the environment they need to flourish. Or on the contrary, if you find that they enjoy being in the presence of differing gender dynamics, co-ed schools are your go-to.
Although the question is a significant one for any parent, it’s just as important to look at the broader context. These decisions don’t operate in a vacuum, and the more general aspects of each school should be considered. For instance, cultural diversity, religion, subject offerings, location and academic records. The choice is for your child, and no one knows them better than you.