There is evidence to support both sides of the argument – depending on which evidence you want to put forward. Photo: Erin JonassonCanberra Grammar School to become co-educationalGirls Grammar responds to co-ed announcementCanberra Grammar switch to co-ed divides parentsEditorial: Canberra Grammar’s move a long time coming

In April 1951, there was a debate organised by the Telopea Park Parents’ and Citizens’ Association on the merits or otherwise of co-education.

Although a Canberra Times article from the time quotes the school’s headmaster as saying the trend is “definitely towards co-education”, which is “said to be the most natural arrangement”, more than 60 years later the debate lives on.

This is a subject unlikely to be settled anytime soon, with Canberra Grammar’s intention to enrol girls after 86 years of boys-only education dividing parents.

There has been a prolific number of studies on the topic over many decades. There is evidence to support both sides of the argument, depending on which one you want to put forward, as the headmaster of Sydney’s King’s School recently wrote.

Then the people who review those studies overall say that co-education is neither here nor there when compared to single-sex schools on quality of education and academic achievement. The arguments for co-education

The Armidale School will turn its back on 123 years of tradition next year when it allows girls to enrol.

Its headmaster of 18 years, Murray Guest, said the decision was about growing the size of the school overall, and being able to offer the breadth of programs, specialisation of teachers and resourcing that comes with size and tuition fees of those extra students.

His own review of the research dismissed pre-conceptions about how children fare better in programs that are designed for their gender, he said.

“The problem with it was those tailored programs tend to reinforce stereotypes of maleness or femaleness that are probably not healthy, and are not ones that we would like put forward.”

He argued that opposition to the change at The Armidale School was based on people valuing the tradition of single-sex education over the tradition of providing high-quality education.

“It wasn’t the fact that there were only boys here that made this a good school,” he said, adding that there is a place for both single-sex and co-educational schools.

When it comes to gendered teaching styles, Professor Judith Gill, a leading researcher in the field, has previously argued that the similarities within the population of boys or girls is much greater than the differences between them. The arguments for single-sex education

Fran Reddan is the president of the Alliance of Girls Schools Australasia. She argued that movement toward co-education is often driven by economic rather than educational outcomes, especially for girls.

“Single-sex schools give girls and boys the opportunity to be taught in relevant ways to suit their different stages of development,” she said. “Parents also choose girls’ schools for their safe, nurturing environment [and] for the quality of pastoral care that is designed specifically for girls.”

Professor Alice Sullivan, a British researcher on the subject whose work the Alliance refers to, has reported findings that suggest gender stereotyping is worse in co-educational schools. For example, she found that after the age of 16 in single-sex schools, boys were more likely to take english and modern language subjects, and girls more likely to take maths and science subjects than their counterparts in co-educational schools.

The Alliance says the distinguishing factor in girls’ schools “is that there are no boys in the classroom to distract, discourage or intimidate girls, and nor are teachers trying to teach to two groups who have differing needs and interests”.

In the n context, the Alliance says NAPLAN data shows that 46 out of 109 schools ranked in ‘s Top 100 Secondary Schools are girls schools, despite only 7 per cent of n secondary schools being girls-only.

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