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In the second half of the 20th Century, many boys’ public and preparatory schools opened their doors to girls leaving the single-sex schools in the minority. The reasons were many but changing social attitudes and fi nancial incentives, seem to be two of the reasons.


However, with the government encouraging the new school programme, different models of delivery are being considered across the country by groups of parents keen to take up the challenge. We are fi nding in some cases, that the single-sex versus co-ed option is being explored again and it is a subject where passions run high.

Research results from neuro-science to league tables have been used to support both cases but there have been no defi nitive results. The publication of the book, Your Daughter, A Guide for Raising Girls, by the Girls’ Schools Association has brought the topic to the attention of the media again recently and so Eds Up thought we would ask the opinion of some of the leading independent school headteachers in the country to share their views with us. You will see that their responses are as varied as the excellent schools they run, leaving us to conclude that you are going to have to make your own decision . . .

A Boy-Free Zone

Dr Helen Wright, Headmistress of St Mary’s, Calne

Girls’ schools are fabulously refreshing places to be. In a girls’

school you will fi nd a space where girls can be girls, and where they can learn to grow – at their own pace – into extraordinarily grounded young women. Forget outdated prejudices which you may still harbour about closeted, stuffy establishments . . . top girls’ schools today are audaciously modern, vibrant and forward- thinking, and offer limitless opportunities to enable girls to develop into the leaders of tomorrow’s communities and society.

Being apart from each other during the school day seems to give both boys and girls greater self-esteem

The debate around which serves children best – co-ed or single-sex – is changing subtly as parents question what they want from a school. Girls’ schools top the public examination league tables, of course, but of far more importance to the vast majority of

parents is the warmth and breadth of experience that their daughters will have at school, both in the classroom and beyond.

A boy-free zone makes for a relaxed but purposeful classroom, where girls enjoy the absence of the pressures, fears and anxieties about how to appear and act in front of members of the opposite sex. Meanwhile, strong, supportive female friendships at school are the forerunners of the increasingly important women’s networks which our daughters will appreciate later in life. Most importantly, however, recently released research from The Institute of Education has concluded that being apart from each other during the school day seems to give both boys and girls greater self-esteem – which is, of course, at the root of long-term happiness and success.

All the girls’ schools I know are lively yet comfortable places, where the girls demonstrate an ease of self- awareness as they move through their fulfi lling days. If you haven’t visited a girls’ school in a while, then pick up your diary and make a date now. There is no better place to educate your daughter.

Dr Helen Wright is Headmistress of St Mary’s School in Calne, Wiltshire. She is a leading proponent of single-sex education and currently President of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA). She regularly writes and advises on education and parenting issues and is an adviser for the GSA’s website aimed at parents – – and one of the authors of the recently published guide to bringing up girls – ‘Your Daughter’.

Work Hard, Play Hard

Simon Doggart, Headmaster of Caldicott Prep School

Boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 13 are very different

animals. Boys have boundless energy and thrive on the challenge of competition. Boys are fascinated by facts and fi gures. Boys have a short attention span and reading does not always come naturally to them.

Primary education tends to attract female teachers whose nurturing and caring skills are invaluable. However, in many cases, where there are boys and girls in the class, the teachers can be naturally drawn to the keen, bright girls who put their hands up and confi rm that they are being taught well! Girls are usually far more articulate at this age and tend to “hog the limelight”, leaving boys under-confi dent which can’t be a good thing. The boys can quickly become demoralised if the learning environment does not relate to their preferred way of learning.

Experienced teachers of boys know that boys need plenty of change. They respond to short, sharp, effective lessons that use active participation and build confi dence. The content of the curriculum can be designed to grasp their interest and stimulate problem-solving and creativity. A recent whole school project at Caldicott involved a real rocket on the lawn and stimulated scientifi c enquiry that left the boys keen and enthusiastic to know more.

Whilst the facilities of a school are not as important as the quality of the teaching, space for boys to play

is vital to their mental health, as well as their physical growth. Competitive sport is for everyone and gives them a natural outlet for so much of their energy. Competitive sport teaches a great many of the skills needed in their future lives. The boys can feel that they belong to a team, whatever the level, and can build up a community spirit where they are proud of representing their school.

In terms of structure and discipline, girls and boys respond in totally different ways. Boys thrive in situations where they have boundaries and rules and this works much more effectively if it can be seen to be fair for all.

Lately, research has shown that often boys are reluctant readers. However, if they are given the right incentives and methods that suit them, boys can become as enthusiastic readers as girls! JK Rowling has done a huge service to boys’ reading. Caldicott has adapted Quidditch to Bookitch. House points are given to boys when they have read and reviewed a book. The most avid readers go in search of a Golden Snitch and “The House Bookitch Cup” is awarded each term. Reading has never been more popular!

Work hard and play hard is a good recipe for boys. They must enthuse about school. Caldicott endeavours to produce happy, confi dent, well-rounded, socially confi dent boys who can thrive at their secondary schools whether they be all boys or co-ed schools.

Simon Doggart has been Headmaster of Caldicott since 1998. Before Caldicott, he taught history at Eton College and was master-in-charge of cricket. He is currently Chairman of the Oxford Group of Boarding Schools.

A Chance to be Themselves

Sallie Salvidant, Headmistress of Bute House Prep School

The question of whether or not to co-educate is one that causes

much heart searching amongst parents. The received wisdom, of course, is that girls do better in girls’ schools and boys in co-ed schools.

Many little girls, on joining our very “non girly” girls’ prep school, almost sigh with relief that there are no boys to contend with here! They tell us that, at their co-ed schools, they felt the boys received all the teacher’s attention, whilst they fell victim to an unspoken “now dear, sit down and be good” expectation, resulting in their feeling overlooked. Girls are often inclined to seek adult approval through compliant behaviour and so it can be easy for teachers to set them to a quiet task, thus giving themselves a chance to manage the boys’ more noisy demands.

Children are at their most different when they are younger; from the earliest age they exhibit very different behaviours and learning styles. Boys tend to be more physically active and need more direction, whilst girls work better independently or collaboratively and are often advanced in social, emotional and language skills. Single-sex schools are able to tailor classes accordingly. Girls learn the confi dence to express themselves in a supportive atmosphere, encouraged by gifted teachers using practical gender- specifi c classroom strategies, and, in this age of early


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