Single-sex schooling debate continues

The shift to co-education by two of Sydney’s traditional all-boys’ independent schools – Cranbrook in the city’s east and Newington in the inner west – has upset some parents and alumni and again stirred the debate on the benefits and disadvantages of single-sex schooling. Certain research suggests that girls do better in single-sex schools – where they are not overshadowed by their male peers. In all-girls’ schools, the thinking goes, young women are more likely to shrug off time-worn stereotypes of femininity and happily dive deep into physics or higher mathematics or engineering.

For its part, the all-girls St Hilda’s School on the Gold Coast in Queensland has a thriving STEM centre (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), says principal Virginia Warner.

“I love walking through our STEM centre and seeing it teeming with our girls,” she says. “They have a great love and passion for solving problems.” With just under 1300 girls enrolled at the school, 184 of them boarders, St Hilda’s offers a range of engineering classes, Warner adds, and it also caters for many girls who choose to study specialist mathematics.

Studies assessing the benefits of single-sex education for girls are listed on St Hilda’s website and Warner says she has seen the mutual support benefits provided by the school’s close-knit sisterhood of girls and young women.

Girls, she adds, learn differently. “We know that boys’ and girls’ cognitive development is quite different and there’s a benefit in being able to tailor to girls-only styles of learning in the classroom.”

St Hilda’s has a strong relationship with The Southport School, an all-boys academy about five minutes away on the Gold Coast, Warner says, and the close ties between the two institutions provide mixed-gender academic and social opportunities from pre-prep all the way through secondary school.

Last week, for instance, Southport hosted a cleverly crafted Addams family musical with a cast of about 80 students drawn from both schools and the performances were “commanding”, Warner says. Next year it will be St Hilda’s turn to stage a co-operative musical.

The schools also provide “special personal development” sessions for cohorts of boys and girls, she adds, and the boarders at St Hilda’s are heavily involved with Southport boys in social programs on weekends.

“There’s a huge range of opportunities which add to the overall educational experience but don’t dilute what happens in an all-girls school,” Warner says. “Our programs are academically aspirational for excellence and tailored to making sure our young women have that sense of who they are and who they can be.”

The Australian