There has been a frisson of excitement with a well-known regional boys’ school, The Armidale School (TAS), choosing to become co-educational in 2016. The media have latched on to this and have been exploring the relative virtues of co-education as opposed to single-sex schooling.
The temperature can rise somewhat when this matter is debated. Why? Because we all attended schools. Because we all know something about schools. Because all our views are valid.
It would be totally inappropriate for me to comment on the TAS decision. TAS are masters of their own business and have every right to determine the character of their educational offering. However, it is appropriate to make a few comments on the broader issue of which is better – co-education or single sex.
The answer is – drumroll please – ‘bother’. Bother? Yes – bother. It’s an amalgam of ‘both’ and ‘neither’.
Why do I say this? I say this because I’ve been the head of a large co-educational school in Victoria, St Leonard’s College in East Brighton. And I say this because I’ve been the head of a large single-sex school in NSW, The King’s School in Parramatta. Both are great schools. Neither is better than the other.
The debate as to which is better, is unwinnable, and thankfully so because Australia needs both types of schools. This is because some students do better in a single-sex setting and other students do better in a co-educational setting.
One of the key roles played by the independent sector of education is to provide Australian families with choice. They can choose between faith-based schools and secular, low-fee or high-fee, co-education or single-sex. If all our schools were the same, we would not be able to offer choice. Therefore, we must recognise the legitimacy of schools that provide an educational offering which we may not be attracted to. Bother!
We must also recognise that there are far more important variables than gender make-up that determine educational quality. Despite compelling testimony shared over the barbequed lamb and lemon meringue pie that co-education or single-sex is better, it is the quality of teaching that really matters. To this can be added other things like, leadership, values and those intangibles of school tone and ethos.
Way down the list – and it’s a long way down the list – is the matter of co-education or single sex. The truth is there are good co-ed schools and bad co-ed schools. There are good single-sex schools and bad single-sex schools. Therefore, the debate will never result in a winner. There are learned papers and research conclusions to be found on any position one wants to advance on this matter.
So – which is better? They both are.