Lucy Hodges: The perils of single-sex education
My daughter would have been better off at a school with some boys
Tuesday 01 December 2009
The findings we report on today – that boys in single-sex schools finish up as emotional cripples, unable to handle relationships with women in later life – add to the growing weight of evidence against single-sex schooling. We have known for a while that boys do better academically when educated with girls, presumably as girls have a calming influence. Now comes the killer fact – that co-ed schooling enables them to lead happier lives and to stay married to the same woman (assuming that makes for happiness).
The same generalisations don't apply to girls. According to the most recent research, girls are better off, or certainly just as well off, in single-sex schools away from boisterous boys – and that is true for their intellectual as well as their emotional lives. But can that really be the case?
As someone who was educated in a single-sex boarding school I believe my schooling might have been improved if I had spent it in the company of boys as well as girls. It would certainly have provided some welcome distraction in lessons. Instead of reading Georgette Heyer all the way through Latin and maths, I could have been making eyes at a real-life hero a few yards away and even had some improving discussions with him about my algebra prep. As it was, I didn't really get to know a youth who wasn't in a book until I arrived at university at the tender age of 17-and-a-half.
Why, then, did I decide to send my daughter to another single-sex school? Part of the answer lies in the chaos of London's education system. I wanted a school that was academically sound, that would get her a clutch of respectable GCSEs and A-levels, and a place at a good university. The school I chose for her was small, probably too small, with a brown uniform that she despised. But, in other ways, it was just the ticket. She studied Latin in a much more intelligent way than I did – and seemed to like it. She was actually good at maths, continuing it into the sixth form and achieving a coveted AS-level for it, and she managed to get an A-level in that daunting subject, chemistry.
And yet, at the end of all that, I wasn't convinced I had done the right thing. Up to the age of 16, everything worked fine. Independent day schools in London are GCSE factories, and she achieved a glittering array without seeming to lift a finger. But when it came to A-levels, I could see her heart wasn't in any of it. The teachers may have been well-qualified but she wasn't inspired by them. I couldn't help feeling she would have been better off, certainly at sixth-form, at a school with some boys – and a few more male teachers – to bring a bit of spice and interest to her life.
Instead she looked outside the school for stimulus, making a lot of new friends, neglecting her studies and having a good time. I was left feeling that her single-sex institution was worthy and diligent but ultimately dull. We would all have been better off if she had moved at 16 to be educated with the opposite sex. She would have found it more challenging in all sorts of ways – and we might have saved a bob or two along the way.
Lucy Hodges is the editor of 'The Independent Education Supplement'
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