Having attended an all girls' school I became very interested in the debate around co-education vs. single sex schools. I feel that my academic studies and results were superior for attending a single sex school; however I also felt that I missed out on a lot of life education by not having boys around much in my formative teenage years.
Research suggests that my experience is common to many students of single sex schools. Lots of studies show that girls do better academically at single sex schools, as do boys, especially in high school. The theory is that because girls mature faster than boys it can be difficult for teachers to accommodate the differences in development rates in a co-ed environment.
Other contributing factors are simply that there are less distractions for both boys and girls in a single sex environment. The game of who likes who, who's going out with who, who's cool and who's not, is what's really important at most co-ed schools. This is less obvious at a single sex school, but who's cool still counts and gossip still takes up a lot of time in class.
Another benefit of a single sex education is the freedom to make educational choices without worrying that you may be the only girl or boy in the class. The threat of judgment because you want to study traditionally masculine subjects like physics and maths, or traditionally girly subjects like literature is also removed.
But what about life skills? A co-educational environment is obviously more reflective of society -one does need to engage with members of the opposite sex fairly regularly after all. Research in this area show that students from single sex schools are more hesitant expressing their views in front of members of the opposite sex* and have more trouble forming friendships with the opposite sex as well. This was my experience after leaving an all girls school and heading out into the world; I had trouble talking to boys at all!
So in the end, what is the better option? It depends on the school, a good co-ed school will be better than a bad single sex one and vice versa. And I think it also depends on the child. If your child may benefit from a more encouraging academic environment then perhaps a single sex school is the better option. On reflection, I would have preferred to attend a co-ed school, but am eternally grateful for the excellent education I received. So what's the answer to my question? It depends.
*Gregg, Kelly, Sullivan and Wolstencroft 06
Perceptions and Attitudes of Students toward their Academic and Social Experiences in Canadian High Schools