Headmistress Jane Gandee writes on the benefits of single-sex education:
What are the advantages of single-sex education?
Studying and learning are complicated enough without adding a dash of testosterone and watching girls and boys jockeying for position. In a single-sex environment it is easier to be yourself. Girls can choose how to behave without having to consider whether it is appropriately feminine. It is no accident that girls’ schools have higher percentages of girls studying 'typically male' subjects such as chemistry than in co-ed environments. This does not mean that girls have to study science at St Swithun’s, but simply that if they do that is normal and if they study languages that is normal too.
Stereotyping does not stop with subject choice but spills over into behaviour: recent research showed that girls educated in single-sex schools are more likely to be risk-takers in educational and professional terms. Girls educated in single-sex schools are also more likely to play sport free from concerns about body image and that being competitive is unfeminine. Interestingly research has shown that those who play sport actually tend to have a more positive body image.
In addition, we seek to reduce pressure on our pupils by creating an environment in which difference is welcome and in which competition between girls is minimised. We expect girls to support each other and to focus on their own work rather than on competing with each other.
In a single-sex environment girls grow up at their own pace, choose subjects to study because they enjoy them, play sport as aggressively and competitively as they wish and in general develop into confident young women who believe that they are capable of anything.
But it’s not the real world
I applaud the fact that St Swithun’s is not the real world. We encourage a freedom from the sort of tiresome stereotyping still so prevalent in the real world which limits both boys' and girls’ aspirations. The girls never hear anyone suggesting that there are areas of life that aren’t for women.
We prepare girls for the real world so that by the time they reach it they are fearless young women capable of anything and unaware that there are things that as girls they ‘shouldn’t’ do. As for the argument that it’s not like real life if there are no boys around, I am not sure that schools are supposed to imitate real life. Schools are supposed to equip children to make a success of the real world and this usually involves good exam results and the development of a range of life skills, all of which can be achieved most effectively in a single-sex environment.
How do they learn to get on with boys?
Our pupils leave St Swithun’s as self-assured, compassionate and witty young women well-equipped to relate to anyone they meet, male or female. And of course there are opportunities for contact with boys, for example in joint plays, concerts, talks or socials with local schools such at Winchester College.
To date these have taken the form of debating contests, ballroom dancing lessons, battle of the bands, charity fashion shows, and an external speaker programme which allows students from different schools to share the experience of listening to talks by varied speakers.
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For more information please click on the icon for the Girls' School Association website