Ken James Headmaster at Red House School

Over the last twenty years, a number of schools have changed from single sex to coeducational. In fact, all the single sex schools I’ve worked in in the UK – Cranleigh, Downside & St John’s Leatherhead – have gone from being boys only to fully coed over time. Some were boys’ schools with girls in the sixth form but all now have girls in all years. The most recent school making the transition from single sex to coed is Ipswich High School for Girls, now known as Ipswich High School (IHS). The decision IHS was a bigger one than usual since the school has been a member of the GDST, the Girls Day School Trust. As its name implies, the Trust only runs day schools and, therefore, IHS will be leaving the trust. The school’s change of status and departure from the trust has ignited, once again, the debate surrounding single sex education.

Research on the subject is varied. Those in favour of boys only schools talk about boys being protected from high achieving girls. Girls’ school seek to promote a school where hardworking girls can be protected from disruptive boys. But are their girls such shrinking violets that they need protecting? And at what cost?

If you merely wish to judge educational success by academic results, single sex schools would seem to come out on top, dominating the league tables. However, is this merely self-perpetuating? Do parents with academically strong children believe they will be better served in single sex schools?

Having worked in single sex schools and having been head of two coeducational schools, I firmly believe what’s most important is finding the right school for each child. The single sex school I have worked in (most recently in Sydney) have been very successful. However, I also have a strong belief that coeducation works best for most children.

Despite discussions about the gender pay gap, we currently work in a workforce where more men than ever before have female bosses (and rightly so). Coeducation teaches males and females that gender is not important but that people are rewarded because of their talents and not because of whether they were born male or female. Keeping the sexes separated to facilitate academic success may hold the children back in other ways. If children are impeding the learning of others surely each school has a responsibility to stop that from happening. It’s not an issue of gender but one of discipline.

The world in which the children work will be equally populated with people of both genders. Shouldn’t children from a young age work collaboratively? At Red House School we focus on teaching the children to think independently and work together as we prepare them for jobs which currently do not exist. We encourage the children to see the opposite sex as friends and colleagues rather than potential dates and this needs to begin at an early age.

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