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Single-sex or mixed – the great schools debate By Rachel Jones, Families TVW Editor Cambridge University – amongst the most traditional of educational institutions – has announced that one of its last remaining women-only colleges will accept men. It is a move that is increasingly being reﬂected in the independent schools sector. Settings that have been single sex since time began are, one-byone, moving to co-education. In the Thames Valley, some well know girls- or boys-only schools have announced a change of direction this year – from The Oratory near Reading to Rupert House in Henley-on-Thames. Others remain resolutely single sex, and claim it makes for more focused, uninhibited pupils who achieve better. Nationally, each of the top ten independent schools (by GCSE results) teach boys or girls discretely. Alun Jones, former President of the Girls’ Schools Association, makes a good case for the performance gap: “If you have a very bright, very driven, very focused, very articulate lady (which a lot of girls are), that intimidates a boy in the classroom, especially those of average ability. The result is that boys don’t put their hands up to answer questions or they indulge in immature behaviour to avoid being shown up. Boys are falling behind as girls are doing better. Boys will put their hands up if they feel safe; they won’t if they are in fear of being ridiculed or humiliated.” Those who champion co-education claim it better prepares children for the real world. Slightly lower grades are, it is suggested, a price worth paying for increased conﬁdence and social skills, and being more at ease with the opposite sex. They maintain that girls and boys can learn from each other in the classroom, and that great teaching is about
adapting for the diﬀerent personality types – not just genders – you come across in any classroom. There is one point on which many educationalists agree. Every child is diﬀerent and the most important challenge is to ﬁnd the school in which you think yours will thrive, and which dovetails with your family’s values – whether that be co-education or single sex. The debate is bound to rumble on, and I for one think it can never be resolved. The grass is green on both sides of this particular educational fence. I spoke to the headteachers from several schools across Berkshire and South Oxfordshire about why they believe their particular model works.
The Oratory for a range of reasons – the atmosphere, ethos, personal attention, academic results – rather than because we were single sex.” Some aspects of PSHE and RSE are likely to be taught separately to give pupils more freedom to express themselves without feeling self-conscious. Mr Smith accepts that the change will not be without its challenges: “Good teachers can accommodate the diﬀerences in learning styles, and we will be providing plenty of preparation and training. Boys and girls are not a diﬀerent species. “In my experience, personality type has a greater impact on learning styles than gender. Having said that, boys are often inherently competitive – if the advent of bright, articulate girls in the classroom encourages them to ‘up their game’, that can only be a good thing. If the inﬂuence of boys makes some of the girls more academically robust and conﬁdent in standing their ground in a debate, that is also a positive.”
Rupert House School Clare Lynas, head teacher at Rupert House School in Henley-on-Thames agrees: “Learning The Oratory styles vary greatly according to the individual The Oratory Schools Association near and not simply by gender. However, there Reading – a longstanding boys-only are signiﬁcant numbers of children “Teaching the senior school with a mixed prep – who beneﬁt from, for example, an has recently announced that it core subjects active and physical approach to will be accepting girls separately ensures that no learning. This will include some throughout from September child feels dispirited or boys and some girls. The vast 2020. Governors and the distracted, and can fulfil majority of our staﬀ were trained senior leadership team made his or her own potential.” and gained their teaching the move in the interests of experience in co-ed schools, and David Fleming, equity. Headteacher Joe Smith Brockhurst & Marlston are very aware of the learning explains: “We wanted to remove styles and needs of diﬀerent groups House the barrier to girls coming through of children. We would automatically the school, and to provide equal plan for this by diﬀerentiating in our access to the excellent education that our schemes of work and lesson plans.” boys enjoy. Our parents tell us that they want Boys currently leave Rupert House School at their daughters to be educated – and, in the the end of year 2 but, from September, will be case of boarders, to live – alongside their sons. welcome until the end of Year 6 along with Logistically, it can be very challenging to have their female peers. Mrs Lynas explains the siblings at diﬀerent schools. In talking to our rationale: “It is a natural progression for us as a parents, it became clear that they are choosing school. Firstly, our boys have beneﬁtted from the excellent foundations provided by our PrePrep School and then gone on to win accolades and prizes in their next schools. We want to keep these capable boys and allow them to carry on working alongside the girls whom they have known since Nursery. There does seem to be a movement, nationally, towards greater co-education and we felt that our parents would like that option. In the past, prospective parents have been very keen on the school until they learned that their son would have to move.”
10 • Henley • Reading • Wokingham • Bracknell • Newbury • West Berkshire
Luckley House Like Rupert House, Luckley House School has made the move from all-girls to co-education with great support from existing and potential parents. The small school in Wokingham now has around 300 pupils on-roll between the ages of 11 and 18. Headteacher Jane Tudor is