Girls-only education offers fantastic benefits for girls aged 7 – 18, specifically because it avoids gender bias of several kinds which work against them in mixed junior or senior school classrooms:
· * Choice of lessons, specialities and topics perceived as ‘boys choices’ such as mathematics, sciences, football etc. In co-ed settings girls will tend to opt away from these.
· * Lessons pitched to less linguistic learners (as boys tend to be) and potential disruption from more physical learners (as boys are as they reach aged 9 – 10).
· * Confidence being encouraged in louder and more physical children (often boys) and less attention given to the quiet diligent learner (usually girls), who may chose not to participate.
These are all reasons why many girls older will perform far better within the single sex arena once they are working independently.
However this is completely turned on its head for younger pupils (aged 2 -7) for whom developing confidence and learning strategies are vitally important. In these foundation years girls will need to develop resilient strategies for dealing with all social and learning situations to empower them to develop the best independent learning techniques in the next phase.
In these younger years, when they still have the support of classroom assistants and very experiential learning programmes, and are supported both socially and academically, all the girls and boys are entitled to a safe environment where they can explore activities and knowledge across the whole learning range. In co-ed settings girls are still likely to mix more naturally with other girls, but the stereotypical gender bias is not so strong, and thus they are likely to have opportunities at their disposal to work in construction, messy play and physical activities, because there is an interest among the class which may not be evident in a girls-only setting. Girls also typically prefer to work towards praise from the teacher, and can develop an antipathy to managing on their own. In a mixed class they will experience a more robust learning model from the boys – which can help to shape their confidence. An ironic twist is that there may be an offer of more traditional boys’ activities which are available to girls, such as martial arts and rugby – which in a girls-only setting, may have been perceived as not suitable for them.
In summary, my view which is supported by the early year’s framework, is that a good pre-prep school should offer all-round activities and exposure for all children, to give them the best possible basic skills for learning and for developing confidence. By mixing with boys at this stage girls will get the very best of both worlds. Beyond the education I also believe that a caring setting that shares family values would wish to consider young families holistically and to understand that modern life and all of its transport and logistical difficulties, requires a little kindness and support for parents who are managing very young children.