EDUCATION – Single Sex or Co-Education?


Boys from Royal Grammar School, Guildford

Article from FOCUS Magazine – Spring 14 issue.

High Street, Guildford, Surrey GU1 3BB
T: 01483 880600
Headmaster: Dr J M Cox

The RGS, founded in 1509, has evolved and developed through-out its distinguished history, continuing to take genuine pride in offering an education which incorporates the very best practice and technology of its time. Throughout these 500 years of change, however, there has been one constant: the RGS has maintained an innate belief in the value of single- sex education through generations of inspirational, erudite and charismatic teachers. We believe that the model which exists at the School is one which allows us to cater to the talents of each individual and supports our boys in fulfilling their potential.

An education tailored for boys requires the centrality of activity and physical movement; hands-on learning; healthy competition and a competitive aspect to tasks and challenges; the element of surprise and unpredictability; and, importantly, the fun-factor. In addition, to create a positive, constructive, successful learning environment there needs to be base- line rigour, respect and mutual trust.

We like to think that all these elements are embedded within the culture of the School. The RGS recognises that to educate boys effectively, teachers must cater to active learners whose kinaesthetic and physical attributes mean the need for competition, movement and fun is vital. Clear rules, high expectations, mutual respect and strong relationships then provide the reassuring foundations for boys to take risks and innovate. Whether it is the choice of literary texts to capture the imagination and which are geared to the interests of boys; or the need for a very practical approach in science experiments or design projects; or getting the boys out of the classroom and thereby challenging and surprising them, we aim to inspire and enthuse the boys at the RGS so that the classroom is simply one part of the learning experience.

Pleasingly, these were the same aspects which the recent ISI (Independent Schools Inspectorate) Inspection of the RGS in November 2013 highlighted in their report. Teachers were regarded as having an excellent understanding of pupils’ needs; pupils were regarded as flourishing across the curriculum and extra-curricular activities. Comments from the report included: “The quality of teaching is excellent, showing passion and commitment, extensive subject knowledge and a keen desire to meet the needs of all pupils”; “Pupils overwhelming enjoy being at the school. They feel well supported by their teachers and tutors and express a consistent pride in their school”; “The pastoral care from which pupils benefit is excellent… leading to exemplary standards of behaviour and open, warm relationships”; “Pupils’ achievements in creative, physical and performance skills are exceptional”; “Pupils benefit from a wide-ranging and challenging curriculum and from an exceptional extra-curricular programme”.

In a single-sex environment boys can develop and mature at their own pace and can also reverse national trends: art, drama, music, sport are all equally accessible – and perhaps more importantly – are all equally valued and respected. We feel that the boys are able to express and challenge themselves irrespective of their chosen field. The educational environment allows the boys to flourish while the School’s close ties with the local girls’ schools and the strong sense of community and family which strengthen these links mean the boys benefit from regular academic, extra-curricular and social interaction with the girls while still enjoying all the benefits and advantages of single-sex education: an education tailored for boys.


Girls from Farnborough Hill in the Sixth Form lab.

Farnborough Road, Farnborough, Hampshire GU14 8AT
T: 01252 545197
Headmistress: Mrs Sarah Buckle

The strength and popularity of girls’ schools is clear to see whether you are looking at academic league tables or the length of waiting lists for schools such as Farnborough Hill. The school is thriving and Headmistress, Sarah Buckle, is not surprised. She believes that parents understand how important a good education is for their daughters (she has two daughters herself) if they are to fulfil their potential and develop the confidence needed for later life. Farnborough Hill’s success is achieved by an impressive blend of academic rigour and outstanding pastoral care in an environment that supports girls to try new things and go beyond their comfort zone.

Mrs Buckle believes that a girls-only school caters best for girls by providing them with a place where they can be themselves without having to conform to gender stereotypes; science and mathematics are particular strengths of the school, alongside its reputed strengths in music, the arts and sport.

The staff at Farnborough Hill are a talented and dedicated team who work in partnership with the girls and their parents to ensure that everyone is happy at school and performs to their best. The teachers are experts in the education of girls; they teach creatively and with passion and the girls respond brilliantly. This leads to very high proportions of A* and A grades in GCSE and A level examinations, so important for accessing the top universities.

Excellent careers provision ensures the girls are well-prepared for university and the world of work. The many leadership opportunities enable them to learn how to take risks and inspire and lead others. School Council, chaired by the Head Girl, meets regularly and has helped to re-draft important school policies such as the Behaviour policy and the Responsible Use of ICT policy.

During the past few years facilities have come on apace. Mrs Buckle believes that environment matters to girls and so the improvements to the school have taken this into account. The new science laboratories have vibrant colour schemes; there are nooks and crannies with comfortable sofas where girls can sit and chat; the school is kept warm (whilst still attending to our carbon footprint) reflecting the fact that girls work better in a warmer environment. The latest project is a beautiful new music suite which comprises a performance space, a state-of-the-art music technology classroom, recording studio and other music rooms.

Sarah Buckle holds the view that learning should be fun, that lessons should be inspiring so that school work never becomes a chore, and she never ceases to be amazed by how much the girls pack in to one day. Whether it is sports practices, music rehearsals, attending the exciting talks programme or dancing their way through the lunch hour for charity, she firmly believes that Farnborough Hill establishes a positive can-do attitude which develops the self-confidence the girls need for bright and fulfilling futures.

If you would like to find out more about Farnborough Hill our next Open Afternoon is on Friday 2 May: please call Director of Admissions, Clare Duffin, on 01252 529811 to book a place.

Cranleigh Prep

Boys and Girls at Cranleigh Preparatory School

Horseshoe Lane, Cranleigh, Surrey GU6 8QH
T: 01483 542058
Head: Michael T Wilson

The on-going debate about single-sex versus co-ed will always be controversial, as everyone interested in education will have their own opinion. However, although there are claims that girls and boys do better if taught separately, there is no overwhelming evidence to support this. Furthermore, there is so much more to education than just academic results and copious evidence exists revealing that children do better socially if they are educated in mixed groups.

I have experienced working in an all boys’ school and a co-ed, and undoubtedly the most important consideration for every child is the school itself. However, I do believe that the interaction between girls and boys at a co-ed school during lessons is extremely valuable. It enables them to find out a lot about each other, whilst learning to understand and respect diverse views and opinions. Although boys and girls perhaps learn differently and approach work in different ways, experienced teachers in a co-ed school will accommodate a variety of learning styles and vary their teaching strategies accordingly.

Having been at a co-ed prep school, followed by a girls boarding school myself, I was constantly amazed by how difficult many of the girls who had been to single-sex schools throughout found it to interact with boys on a social level. They felt uncomfortable around the opposite sex and saw boys as ‘alien creatures’ who they didn’t understand. Despite spending six very happy years at Benenden, I believe that co-education offers a more realistic grounding for adult life.

I have four children of my own, three boys and a girl, and have learnt through experience that, as a parent, it is really important not to under-estimate the impact of school choices on the whole family. Having initially followed the traditional route, sending our boys to Elstree aged eight, whilst our daughter remained at Danes Hill, a co-ed school, we soon realised how complex we’d made our life, as we were now unable to make clashing sports days and important school events, not to mention the complications of different term dates and school runs.

So, a year ago, we moved all four children to Cranleigh School in Surrey, a senior school with a prep school on its doorstep. This excellent co-educational school, just 50 minutes from London, has enabled our children to be together as a family, sharing the same experiences and memories that will be common ground forever. Although evidence and personal experience has convinced me that co-education is a more natural progression for real life ahead, it is ultimately a personal choice and a far more important factor than single-sex or co-education is the quality, the leadership and the teaching of the school.

Emma Reid, Parent