Girls who attend single-sex schools 'at disadvantage in world of employment'

Headteacher of leading independent school claims students will suffer if they 'cannot communicate with male colleagues'

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The Independent Online

Girls who attend single sex schools face being at a “huge disadvantage” in the world of employment because they may be unable to communicate with boys, according to the headteacher of a leading independent school.

“They may have a clutch of A*’s (at A-level) and a first class degree but if they cannot meaningfully communicate with male colleagues they will be at a huge disadvantage,” said Richard Cairns, headteacher of top-performing independent school Brighton College - itself co-educational.

In an article for the magazine Independent School Parent, he predicts the gradual demise of single-sex schools, arguing that parents are “voting with their feet now - there are now a third fewer girls’ only schools and half as many boys’ schools as there were 20 years ago - a trend I believe will continue”.

“Boys in single sex schools tend to create their own their own artificial hierarchies where only those in the 1st XV rugby team are trule valued while girls-only schools sometimes suffer a degree of emotional intensity that can lead to bullying.

“Contrast that with a co-educational world where girls admire the boys who dance, sing or act and so, therefore, do the boys.  Contrast that, too with a mixed environment where the emotional intensity of all girls is diluted by the boys.

“IN othetr words, there is a place for everyone and an environment where girls and boys can be themselves.”

The image of the shrinking violet former girls’ school pupils may not sit easy with single sex alumni like the fearsome former chairwoman of the Commons public accounts committee Margaret Hodge and leading actress like Dame Judi Dench and Harry Potter star Emily Watson.

Ms Hodge was a pupil at Bromley High School while Dame Judi attended the Mount School in York and Ms Watson Headington School in Oxford.

Caroline Jordan, president of the Girls’ School Association, said girls’ schools had featured highly in independent schools’ exams league tables.

“It may also have escaped his (Mr Cairns) attention that all girls’ schools provide plenty of appropriate opportunities for interaction with boys: in fact, it is rather old-fashioned to assume anything other,” she added,

“It is time for Mr Cairns to cease his rather tiresome attacks on independent school colleagues - the sector benefits from diversity and choice and I am sure he would agree with that.”

She added that a survey by the Institute of Physics had shown that girls’  in single-sex independent schools were 1.5 times more likely to study A-level physics than those in independent co-educational schools.

However, Mr Cairns insisted he was “puzzled” by parents looking for a place that will prepare their child for the future who are swayed by “outdated notions” about young women performing better in girls-only schools.

Recent research, he argued, had “cast serious doubt”  on the argument that girls do better academically, particularly in the more “male” subjects like science, if taught separately to boys.  

“The real reason some all girls’ schools have a strong track record in traditionally ‘masculine’ subjects, such as physics, is that they’re very selective institutions,” he said.

“Bright girls are more likely to study physics than those of average ability. Whether they are sharing classes with boys is largely irrelevant.”

He said he doubted whether any girl at his school would agree that they were put off by being in the same learning environment as boys.

“There is a sense that people respect and even admire each other for their achievements,” he added.  “Perhaps that is why we are lucky enough to produce male dancers representing the country in summer 2016 at the Dance World Cup as well as female cricketers who play (at) county and national level.”