Co-education means that boys and girls attend the same school. For primary aged boys and girls, research and experience shows that a mixed education is better than a single sex education. In infant schools, children between 5 and 7 years old generally have friends of both sexes. From 5-11 years girls and boys do not like one another – generally speaking – hence the oft heard complaint from boys that girls are “sissy” and from girls that boys are dirty, rough and smelly. However, it is in secondary education where the differences between single sex and co-educational schooling can be most apparent.
Research shows that girls aged 11 to 18 do better in maths and the sciences at single sex schools in the UK. Boys do better at many subjects. This may be because most single sex secondary schools in the country are grammar, faith and fee-paying schools; there are very few single sex state schools now. Grammar, faith and fee-paying schools generally have much smaller classes than state schools have, so there is far more individual teacher attention for each pupil. They are also known as “good schools” and, therefore, tend to attract the best teachers. Their behaviour ethos is usually much stricter than state schools and unruly pupils are generally asked to leave.
It is very difficult these days to expel an extremely unruly and disruptive child from an ordinary state secondary school. Even where a head teacher in an ordinary state secondary school expels a pupil for extreme unruliness or even violence, the decision is often reversed by the education authority or the governors. The head teacher, after having his authority undermined in this way, is required to have the errant pupil back in his or her school even though this may adversely affect other children’s learning. Teachers in state schools no longer have the authority to discipline children effectively. In state schools often there is no competitive element because it has been removed on account of political correctness. Also there is a tendency to give a one-size fits all education. State secondary schools these days can be enormous; two thousand pupil schools are common, and children simply get lost by sheer force of numbers.
In faith, grammar, and fee-paying schools pupils generally behave better because they are expected to do so. Also the education is better tailored to the needs of the child. There is a competitive element in lessons and in sport. The head teacher in these schools generally has more power and his authority is respected. Grammar, faith and fee-paying secondary schools tend to be smaller and are organized in such a way that several teachers will actually know each child and his/her background personally. Parents who make the effort to send their children to such schools have a vested interest in how their child performs in school. The partnership between home and school is far better than in an ordinary state school.
The often cited and pat response to the question as to what are the advantages and disadvantages to a mixed or single sex education are that single sex schools are better for both boys and girls educationally. That socially boys do better in a mixed secondary school because the presence of girls softens their behaviour. In Britain these responses may not show the true picture since it is not often possible to compare like with like. The few single sex state schools that exist are just as likely to be good or bad schools as are the mixed state secondary schools. The vast majority of single sex schools are grammar schools, fee paying or faith schools; they are just not the same thing as the vast majority of mixed schools.