Single sex schools…or a completely off topic post.

Aged 15 with my Twinney at school (Yep my hair really was once that long)
Todays post wanders a little off topic for me. Under normal circumstances’ my blog focuses on vintage but a chat with my best friend a few weeks ago really got me thinking, and this is how this post all came about.
 I’m a product of an all girls grammar school. My school served me well.  I left with a pretty excellent string of GCSE’S and A-levels and this grounding led me to do equally well in my degree. I LOVED school. I still look back to finishing my A-levels over 4 years ago and feel sad about it. I made wonderful friends (many of whom I’m still incredibly close to today) and it really shaped me into the adult I am today. Yet, I still have a certain level of discomfort towards single sex schools, but why?
The general comment I hear made about single sex schooling is ”good for girls bad for boys”. I would hasten to disagree and suggest instead that single sex schooling is actually bad for both girls and boys. Whilst perhaps academically such schooling has definite advantages it is more in physcological terms that I am concerned. The reason why children at single sex school tend to perform better is little to do with segregation and much more to do with the selective nature of such schools.  I believe the reason why myself and fellow pupils at my school did so well had much more to do with the fact that we were educationally “cherry picked” rather than the fact we studied in an all female environment. 
I will start by saying that my school tried incredibly hard to fight against this with a strong emphasis on subjects that are not traditionally female orientated. Resistant materials (wood tech with a bit of metal thrown in) was a popular choice, perhaps more so than the traditional food technology course. Sciences were also incredibly popular, with numerous girls from my school going on to complete degrees in such subjects. All girls schools tend to breed strong minded independent girls who strive to be successful, yet still I am left feeling a little uncomfortable by single sex schooling.
Emotionally though what does studying at a single sex school do to you?
I have learnt this all the hard way. Whilst educationally my school was fantastic my grounding as to the “real” world and social interaction was poor to say the least. Throughout my teenage years I found it nigh-on impossible to talk to men, and still at times struggle. I ‘m incredibly shy and suffer with hideously poor confidence due to my own lacking social interaction skills, and I have to say I think this partly stems from going to a single sex school. A number of recent articles has iterated the same viewpoint as I come from, suggesting that adolescents at single sex schools find the opposite sex hard to deal with. (Telegraph 2011).
Not only that but there are suggestions that such schooling makes children more likely to be sexist. I’ve certainly encountered this and seen the negatives in terms of what single sex schools can do for boys (and young men). The chauvinistic attitudes of the young men who went to my local all boys school still worry me. I think this stretches far beyond just being a “teenage thing” and is much more about the physiological impact such schools can have on you.  The same telegraph article that I previous quoted suggested that “Boys who spend more time in each other’s company are more likely to become aggressive and develop behavioural problems, while isolating girls can lead them to accept gender stereotypes”. This certainly rings true and confirms my own experiences.
To me though, what is perhaps more worrying is that these attitudes seem to extend past school and into adult life “A British study carried out in 2007 found that men in their early 40s who had been educated in single-sex schools were more likely to be divorced than those who went to mixed schools.” (lack of understanding of women here comes to mind….)
Certainly though single sex schools do have their advantages. As teenage hormones begin to play havoc you can see a motive to keeping girls and boys apart, especially in the classroom environment. And also academically there are some small advantages, I think that studying with other girls puts you educationally on more of a level playing field . I think being able to educationally “compete” with other girls meant I strove harder to succeed. I’m not sure If I would have felt the same at a mixed school…
Although, overall I would have to say there are far greater benefits to having boys and girls study together rather than separately. I went from an all girls school onto university where I studied an all girls course, I wish in my studies I’d had more opportunities to work with men, and perhaps see things from a bit of a different perspective.
I don’t know whether I would be a different person had I studied at a mixed school, but I certainly think I would find social interaction somewhat easier than I do today. I’d be interested to know how others who studied at single sex schools feel about these issues…

2 thoughts on “Single sex schools…or a completely off topic post.

  1. I too went to an expensive private girls school, and I agree that while it was wonderful educationally, my social life afterwards was a nightmare for many years. Put it this way, I am 42 and still single!

  2. I was having this conversation with my sister and brother in law at the weekend, who are a few years older than me and who will soon be making schooling decisions for my niece who is now 5. One parent went to a mixed school, the other to a single sex school (my sister in law went to the single sex school). Both were advocating the school type that they went to. The girls school as an opportunity to get a better education, the mixed school as an experience more conducive to preparing kids for real life.I went to a mixed school myself, and was bullied by girls and was very happy to be able to choose between having male or female friends. I think, on balance mixed schools could have all sorts of things levelled at them (teenage pregnancies amongst other things..), I was socially well rounded by the time I left and could deal with boys fairly well. My sister in law on the other hand, tells of being practically scared of boys when she was at uni, because she had never had anything to do with them. On the plus side of both stories: she has been married 11 years to her first boyfriend and is a stay at home mum; I have been with my husband for 10 years and work full time. You could argue, if you were being controversial, that single sex schools enforce traditional patriarchal values…

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