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Posted: 16th February 2022

Having worked in Education for almost thirty years, and in leadership positions for twenty of those, I have only ever taught in a co-educational environment until January 2018, when I became Principal of Surbiton High School.

Surbiton High School comprises three Schools – a Girls’ Prep, Boys’ Prep and Senior Girls’ School. Over my first few months, I experienced first-hand what I believe to be the benefits of a single sex education. It is not what I imagined it would be, and I was surprised by the impact it has had on my leadership, teaching and learning, beliefs and educational philosophy.

First and foremost, what happens day in, day out in the classroom is the key to ensuring progress and achievement. Engaging approaches to learning, together with outstanding teaching delivered by teachers that genuinely care, provide the real key to ensuring children learn well, become lifelong learners, and achieve academically. This is true of all schools, co-educational or single sex.

However, when teachers are able to use techniques tailored to the gender of their pupils, learning can be enhanced further. I have witnessed this daily at Surbiton High School. The girls can question and make mistakes more freely. They are free of the pressure to compete with boys in those subjects traditionally seen as being male-dominated, such as the Sciences and Maths. What has surprised me the most is the confidence this provides the girls, and that there simply is no ceiling to their learning. Indeed, a much higher proportion of girls choose STEM subjects at A-level than I have experienced in any of the co-educational settings I have previously worked in. At Surbiton High School, 40% of our students have gone on to study STEM subjects at university. This is 15% higher than the national average.

In a recent Open Morning, one Year 7 pupil was asked the question by a prospective parent: “Do you like being in an all-girls’ school?” Without being prompted, she replied very happily: “There are no distractions or poor behaviour and I can answer questions and just be me!”

At the Boys’ Prep, the Form Teachers are able to create a bespoke curriculum, which both engages and ignites the boys’ curiosity and motivation for learning. This involves themes and experiences that allow the boys to express themselves. The distinct advantage of an all-boys’ learning environment means that boys routinely and naturally rise to tasks that girls might otherwise do.

We see firsthand that in a single sex environment in schools, pupils can simply be themselves. They appear confident, ambitious and open to ideas. They see the achievements of the girls in the years above; and of alumni such as Edwina Dunn, Chemmy Alcott, Mollie King and Nicky Morgan MP; so the girls become acutely aware that they can be just as successful in any field of life. This year, we have ten pupils who have successfully gained places at Oxbridge. I am confident that, in a co-educational environment, some of these girls would not have believed themselves to be capable of applying to read subjects such as Biological Sciences, Land Economy or Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Gender stereotypes are challenged, and this broadens educational aspirations.

In sport, girls are more likely to take up football and cricket, traditionally considered boys’ sports, at an all-girls school. Conversely, theatre and dance are explored with more natural ease by the boys at an all-boys’ school.

Over the decades, the single sex school debate has attracted strong opinions on both sides. There are many factors that contribute to a truly successful school environment, and the gender of the pupils is only one of these. Outstanding teaching, dedicated staff, supportive parenting and an engaging educational environment are also crucial. However, if asked whether I would choose single sex education for my child,  my answer would be an unequivocal yes, in a heartbeat.

If you’d like to find out more about single sex education at Surbiton High School, visit www.surbitonhigh.com.

Categories: Senior School Whole School