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maturity, without the social pressures arising from the presence of the opposite sex.

At every age, girls in girls’ only classrooms are more likely to explore non-traditional female subjects such as ICT, Science and DT. Children are, from a young age, very aware of what the prevailing culture says is appropriate for each gender. As a result, the co-ed classroom often has the unintended consequence of actually intensifying gender roles and expectations. Pupils in mixed primary schools, when given the freedom to choose, will almost always join groups of their own gender.

Girls at single-sex preparatory schools often have more diverse role models of girls and women and so are more willing to take risks. They embrace traditional boys’ sports like football and cricket with delight and energy. Little “tomboys” are free to take the boy roles around the school without competition. There are no gender messages pushing them into “pink, fl uffy boxes”.

Single-sex education gives a wonderful opportunity to encourage girls to be confi dent and fearless, to be questioning, to be articulate, to be enthusiastic, to be free – in short just to be their joyous female selves.

Sallie Salvidant is Head of Bute House Preparatory School for Girls in London. She was Head of Rupert House Preparatory School in Henley on Thames, which is co-ed in the younger years and then educates only girls. She has also worked in 2 large mixed state primaries in London and has taught boys in North Yemen.

Poacher turned Gamekeeper? Mark Johnson,

Headmaster of Cheam

“I was always an advocate of the very traditional single-sex boarding environment as this is what I

personally experienced very happily from the age of six as an “Army Brat” in the early sixties. In those days, co-ed prep schools were virtually unheard of and the leading preparatory and public schools in the country were virtually all single-sex.

My arrival at Cheam signalled a dramatic change in my blinkered outlook as my family (two daughters included) took residence at the school and began the process of its transformation from all boys (since 1645!) to a mixed community. The “single-sex v co-ed” debate is a long and well-established one with the two parties fi ghting their own corners convincingly. The simple answer to the big question is that there is no right or wrong option but only what is suitable for parents’ individual children. Parents should go with their instincts and decide what is best for their child.

The social benefi ts of growing up and learning and living with the opposite gender are of a huge advantage for later life

However, in my unique position of having experienced both forms in two very good schools, there is no doubt in my mind that the social benefi ts of growing


up and learning and living with the opposite gender are of a huge advantage for later life and especially at the secondary and tertiary stages of education.

My own daughters, who spent ten years at Cheam, ultimately chose the co-ed secondary option and went to St Edward’s Oxford where they have thrived. I do think that a co-ed prep school provides the perfect platform for whichever route is eventually chosen. The amalgamation of male and female views enriches the education they receive and the benefi ts in music and drama are easily understood and shouldn’t be understated. Quite simply, there is a special atmosphere that is unique to co-ed schools with boys and girls happily co-existing and learning to respect each other’s differences. A précis of advantages might read thus:

• Self-assurance

84 per cent of students said they feel comfortable expressing their views in front of members of the opposite sex and commonly report healthy self-esteem.

• Social skills

Co-ed students often demonstrate comfort in social situations, and 72 per cent of students say they easily make friends of the opposite sex.

• Safety and mutual respect Students of co-ed schools are more likely to

treat members of the opposite sex with courtesy and respect. They also report feeling safe at their schools because of lack of bullying and harassment.

• Real-world preparation 71 per cent of parents felt co-ed schools better

prepared students for post-secondary education. • Diversity

79 per cent of parents said they felt co-ed schools refl ected diversity of society, 62 per cent of students at co-ed schools feel they are able to participate in many activities with both same sex or opposite sex partners.

(Source: Selecting an independent school: the benefi ts of the co-educational environment, 2006)

Choosing the right prep school is one of the most important decisions you will ever make; get it right and your child will be set up for life. It goes without saying that country co-ed preps would get my vote every time!

Mark Johnson spent 17 years teaching at a traditional all boys boarding school in Oxford before taking the helm 12 years ago at Cheam and driving it forwards towards its reincarnation as an ‘all singing, all dancing’ co-ed boarding and day school for 3 -13 year-olds.

Choose the Right School

Dr Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College

In this day of more informed and focused parenting, perhaps this

conversation, whilst stereotypical, represents the danger of making important decisions about your child’s future based solely on peer pressure or your own experiences of school. The world has changed and so too have good schools. We need to prepare

our pupils for an uncertain future and make choices based on the relevance and quality of the education they provide . . .

Two old university chums have met each other for the fi rst time after 25 years, at an independent school fair:

“I’ve got James down just for a single sex boys’ school.” “Me too, with India.” “Single-sex schools are of course much better.” “Much better, yes.” “We’re not going to bother to look at co-ed schools.” “Nor us. Waste of time.” “Absolutely.”

“India’s godparents have sent their children to a co-ed school. You remember Coco, their mother, don’t you?”

“Coco. Goodness. Who could forget her? Those purple skirts! So tawdry. How are her children doing?”

“Brilliantly, apparently.” “Didn’t they go to St Superiors?” “Yes. Jolly good prep school. Single-sex of course.” “Of course.” “But now they are at a co-ed senior school.” “No. How ghastly. I expect they hate it.” “Well, she said they were thriving there. Very odd.”

“India tells me she wants to go to a co-ed too, but I won’t let her.” “You tell her what is good for her.”

“Well . . . it’s obvious. Anyway, children do better academically at single-sex schools.”

“I heard someone say that has now been shown to be false. There’s been a huge study of it by some education professor, Alan Smithers, apparently, which shows there is no signifi cant statistical difference.”

“But all those temptations. I mean, it’s not right to mix boys and girls together, is it?”

“Well, almost every other country in the world does mix them up, apart from those based on the British system.”

“Well, that is abroad isn’t it? I still don’t think it’s right.” “Nor me.”

“And after all, we both went to single-sex schools, didn’t we?”

“Yes – and look at us now.”

This of course is an imaginary conversation. The greatest truth I believe, after 25 years refl ecting on co-ed versus single-sex, is to choose the right school, regardless of its gender balance. There are some wonderful single-sex schools in Britain, and some poor co-ed ones. Nothing substitutes for visiting schools and soaking up the atmosphere.

Dr Anthony Seldon MA, PhD, FRSA, MBA, FRHisS is an authority on contemporary British history and Headmaster of Wellington College, one of Britain’s most famous independent schools. He is also author or editor of over 25 books on contemporary history, politics and education. Dr Seldon appears regularly on television and radio and in the press, and writes for several national newspapers. His views on education have regularly been sought by the government and political parties.

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