The fact that I am writing this is quite ironic. I remember clearly the stand-up arguments I had with my parents when we were looking for ‘the next school’ when I was 13. But I knew immediately when I stepped through the door that the school I ended up in was for me, boys or no boys. It was the ambience; it was the welcoming faces; it was the freedom to concentrate on what I loved (which happened to be Drama) without worrying about what I looked like. It turned out to be the best time of my life and the friends I made there are my best friends today.
So, having spent five years myself as a full boarder at an all-girls’ school and now as a Housemistress at Downe House, I frequently find myself testifying to the benefits of a single-sex education for girls. Biased? Absolutely. Fair? I hope so. Don’t get me wrong, co-ed schools can be and are excellent and both can be the right answers for your child but, please, parents, at least go and visit a single-sex school before ruling it out. The benefits of single-sex education, particularly for girls, are very real and compelling.
Firstly let’s consider the classroom. It has long been known that girls from single sex schools perform better in public exams than their counterparts in co-ed schools. Biological differences in the brain mean that girls and boys learn differently. Girls respond better to written and vocal instructions and often need more encouragement and confidence to speak out. How much easier it is in a single sex environment to encourage girls to do this, rather than battling with sometimes dominant and over-confident boys.
As a single sex school our teaching is tailored to suit girls, giving them the opportunity to express themselves freely without worrying about what boys might think of them. This in turn makes them more confident and keen to study those more ‘traditionally male’ subjects. STEM subjects are among the most popular subjects taught at Downe House and, bucking the national trend, we have more girls going on to study STEM-related courses at university than any other subject. Recent independent research by the Institute of Physics found that girls who attend independent girls’ schools are significantly more likely to study Physics to A Level than girls in any other kind of UK school, including independent co-ed schools.
According to the Girls’ School Association, girls at single sex schools are 75% more likely to take Maths A level, two and a half times as likely to take Physics and over twice as likely to take most languages.
Looking after girls growing up in today’s world is what girls’ schools do best. As a single-sex school, we can be and are experts in girls. Focussing on a girl’s wellbeing is at the heart of everything we do. With mental health issues on the rise in young people, we do our utmost to equip our girls with skills to manage any bumps in the road positively and we provide a range of wellbeing activities to help girls relax – be it through yoga, meditation, mindfulness, exercise, sleep clinics or just talking.
Yes, ‘real life’ is co-ed, but teenagers are not adults and, by allowing them to develop a strong sense of self away from the scrutiny of the opposite sex, girls’ – and boys’ – schools can help their pupils to become more confident adults. By the time they enter the co-ed world of university, work and life, they have acquired the life skills and self-confidence to succeed
The girls I am privileged to have looked after at Downe leave confident, curious and up for a challenge. As one girl famously declared, “I left Downe feeling there was nothing I couldn’t achieve”, or as we used to say in my old school “I can, and I will”. I could not put this better myself, and it is certainly something that has stayed with me well into my adult life. There is no limit to what girls can achieve and how wonderfully privileged they are to go out into the world with such empowerment.
“I left Downe feeling there was nothing I couldn’t achieve”
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