Why do students at girls-only schools in Hong Kong do better than the average, while girls in Belgium do better at coed schools? Is it that results vary by region and environment? Or, as Cathy Young pointed out years ago, are the benefits of gender-specific education largely unproven? Alan Smithers, professor of education at Buckingham University, has disappointing news for single-sex education stalwarts: His new study The Paradox of Single-Sex and Co-Education: The Latest Research (not available online) argues that there don't appear to be any benefits to girls-only schooling, and that the slight advantages in test scores probably result from the fact that single-sex schools tend to be private. (Caveat: just as kids today sometimes say "ba-a-a-d" when they mean "good," the UK terminology for "private" and "public" schools is completely confusing.) From an article in the Observer:
Smithers, who will present his findings at a co-education conference at Wellington College in Berkshire, said that whether a school was single-sex or not had little impact on how well it did. His exhaustive review of data from across the world showed no evidence that single-sex schools were consistently superior. In Hong Kong, where 10 per cent of schools are single-sex, girls appeared to do better. But in Belgium, where co-educational schools are in the minority, boys and girls who study together get the best results. He highlighted the fact that 40 per cent of people who had a single-sex education wanted their children to go to a co-educational school.
The work was carried out on behalf of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, an organisation that represents the headteachers of some 250 leading independent schools in Britain. It comes after research published last month in Scotland showed that even in a co-educational school, separating pupils into single-sex classes failed to improve boys' performance. Rather than raising success rates, the move led to greater indiscipline, it found.
Single-sex believers aren't even waiting until tomorrow's presentation of the study to start defending. "There are irrefutable differences between girls and boys," says Brenda Despontin, president of the Girls School Association. "Girls have a greater ability to focus for longer, boys want to change [activities] more times. The requirements of a lesson and how it is structured are different. Parents want their girls feeling confident and comfortable about who they are. Sometimes having teenage boys around can be inhibiting for girls and vice-versa."
So let the war on boys go on!
Related: "There's no cock in this cockpit," promises the tagline for Where the Boys Aren't 17. (Talk about falling behind in gender-segregated studies: Why hasn't there been a new WTBA release in three years?)