Historically in England and Wales, most schools were single-sex, but now the majority are co-educational with just over 800 single sex schools in the country. If you are considering an all girls’ school for your daughter, here are some key points to consider:
1.Will my daughter do better academically at a single sex school?
Overall, research shows that girls fare better academically at single sex schools. A 2010 study found that girls fared better in examinations at age 16 in single-sex schools, whilst boys achieved similar results at single-sex or co-education schools (1). Advocates of single-sex education for girls point to the fact that girls can concentrate more without distractions from boys . It has also been argued that girls do not want to appear competitive in front of boys, so effectively dumb down their performance. The biggest provider of girls’ education in England and Wales, the Girls Days School Trust (GDST) say in their ethos that: “experience shows us that they (girls) shine academically and socially in a girls-only environment.” The 24 GDST schools which include South Hampstead School for Girls and Nottingham Girls’ High School, maintain a top performance in league tables. Their list of alumae is outstanding and includes the author, Dame AS Byatt, designer Emma Bridgwater, classicist Mary Beard and Dame Stella Rimington the first female Director of MI5.
Nevertheless, there are many schools where both boys and girls do very well in co-ed environment such as Sevenoaks Schools in Kent, where students study the IB, and Brighton College.
2. Career prospects: will my daughter earn more?
Very possibly. A 2011 study has found that, later in life, girls who had been to single-sex schools went on to earn higher wages than women who had been to co-educational schools.(2). This is just one study and of course, career prospects depend on many other things such as motherhood, personal choice and home environment. But it is interesting that earnings prospects look bright for those girls educated in an all girls’ environment.
3. My own experience of all girls was negative- I want co-ed for my daughter.
This is understandable and you will not want your daughter to have the same experience as you. All girls’ schools have changed a great deal over the last 30 years. They are very much focused on what girls need and employ excellent teachers
At Queen’s College School, London, both the academic and creative are taken seriously, with several girls going on to do a year’s art foundation at leading London art colleges before then going on to university. At the recent open evening, Principal of Queen’s, Dr Frances Ramsey explained how every girl had been accommodated in her choice of GCSE subjects. This would not be possible at a larger London school.
Many co-ed schools provide equally positive opportunities such as Brighton College and Sevenoaks School, where results are excellent and both boys and girls thrive, and Westminster sixth form where both girls and boys achieve some of the best results in the country.
4. Will my daughter find it hard to relate to boys?
Not necessarily. Your daughter will have plenty of opportunities to meet with boys outside schools, whether it be through orchestra, football club, or socialising with her brothers, cousins and their friends. Most day schools organise events with neighbouring boys schools. If your daughter is planning to board, you can enquire as to whether her prospective schools organise social events with a nearby boys’ school. For example, Wycombe Abbey has their Annual Ball with Eton College and they also organise informal house visits to Pizza Hut with one of the houses from a boys’ school such as Harrow or Radley.
5. Will she be happier at an all girls’ school?
This depends on your daughter: her personality, her interests and her individual needs. An all girls’ environment may not necessarily suit every girl. It also depends on quality of pastoral care offered by the school.
Sophie went from a mixed prep in London to an all girls’ boarding school in Surrey. She was unhappy because in her words “I really missed the company of boys.” After two terms, her parents’ moved her to a mixed schools where she thrived both academically and emotionally.
However, your daughter may prefer the specific attributes which an all girls’ environment can offer.
One thing that girls’ schools really excel in is understanding girls – what makes them tick, how they study best, what motivates them and more importantly, the huge challenges which they face in the modern world. At the recent open morning at Francis Holland School, Sloane Square, Headmistress Mrs Lucy Elphinstone spoke of her awareness of the issues surrounding girls in the 21st century: she makes sure that all girls learn computer programming and emphasises the need for all girls to be adaptable and able to reinvent themselves. In a rapidly changing world, this is a vital skill: our daughters need to be prepared for the fact that they will have a variety of different careers in their lifetime.
Many all girls’ schools endow their pupils with the skills and confidence to thrive in today’s society.
(1)Sullivan, A., Joshi, H. and Leonard D. (2010) ‘Single-sex schooling and Academic Attainment at School and through the Lifecourse.’ American Educational Research Journal 47(1) 6-36
(2)Sullivan, A, Joshi H, and Leonard D. (2010) ‘Single-Sex schooling and labour market outcomes’. Oxford Review of Education 37(3) 311-322
The photo is of Queen’s College, London.
For many parents, choosing a school for their child is one of the most important decisions they will ever make. Here are 8 top tips to help:
1) Visit the school
Ideally, visit the school yourself. There is no substitute for breathing the air, stalking the classrooms and using your intuition. If this is not possible, and you are based abroad, or relocating, use an experienced independent education consultant with connections to your preferred schools, who will advocate for you. This person should be an education expert and ideally a parent themselves who has children in the same school system.
2) Speak to the teachers.
And don’t be afraid to ask probing questions: are they happy, do they like the head, do they feel supported in their work? Notice how the teachers interact with the children- are they warm and caring?
3) Speak to the children.
Many schools use current pupils to show you around. As above, ask relevant questions, especially about pastoral care.
4) Ask your child
The school is for them, after all. You may hanker after St Paul’s, but your child may be better suited to Bedales.
5) League Tables
League tables have their place, but do not rely on them. Many of the best schools refuse to partipicate in them anyway.
6) Word of mouth
Do not under-estimate the power of the parental grapevine. Schools can change remarkably quickly. News of a staff resignation, bullying or inadequate teaching travels likes wildfire through parental networks and well before any inspectorate or Ofsted gets a whiff. If you don’t know any parents at the school, use an independent education consultant whom you trust.
7) Don’t worry
Yes, choosing a school for your child can be challenging. But very few schools are truly terrible. And remember that….
8) Your decision is not set in stone
This simple fact takes the pressure off.
If your child is unhappy at your chosen school, you have the power to change this. There are some scenarios that you cannot plan for such as the other children in your child’s form group: they may be wonderful, but they may be little horrors. Make it clear to your child that any issues that arise can be resolved – and that in life, it is to ok to change a decision.