No academic advantage to attending single-sex schools, research suggests
The study looked at academic performance among children attending single sex and mixed schools.
A new study has found there is no significant difference in academic performance between children attending single sex or mixed schools in Ireland.
The research from the University of Limerick showed there is no significant variation in performance for girls or boys who attend single-sex schools compared to their mixed-schooling peers in science, maths or reading.
The research was a joint project between Dr Darragh Flannery, senior lecturer at the Department of Economics in the Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick, and Professor Jose Clavel, from the Department of Quantitative Methods at the University of Murcia in Spain, and has been published in the British Educational Research Journal.
Our analysis shows no evidence of an academic advantage to attending a single-sex school for boys or girls in Ireland
Dr Darragh Flannery, University of Limerick
The study used a sample of nearly 5,000 15-year-olds from the 2018 Irish wave of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) dataset to examine the association between attending a single-sex school and mathematics, reading and science performance for boys and girls.
The data is designed to examine what students can do with what they know in each of the three subject areas by testing how well they apply their knowledge in everyday life situations.
The dataset includes extensive information about individual students and the schools they attend.
Dr Flannery said: “The topic of single-sex versus mixed-sex schooling continues to be a source of debate within education policy in many countries, including Ireland.
“However, there is limited evidence around the relationship between attending a single-sex school and academic performance.
“In Ireland, relative to other countries, a high proportion of secondary school children – roughly one third – attend a single-sex secondary school.
“For this reason, the Irish educational system provides an interesting setting for exploring the outcomes of single-sex schooling.”
The analysis showed significant raw gaps in reading, science and maths performance, with pupils in single-sex schools performing better than those in mixed-schools.
However, once the researchers applied a range of individual and school level factors such as the socioeconomic background of the student, the school student-staff ratio, the quality of teaching material available to the school and whether or not the school is disadvantaged, these gaps did not present as statistically significant.
It revealed, on average, that there is no difference in maths, science or reading performance for 15-year-olds after adjusting for the background of the student and other school-level factors and this result was found for both boys and girls.
“Our analysis shows no evidence of an academic advantage to attending a single-sex school for boys or girls in Ireland,” said Dr Flannery.
“The differences we see in the raw scores seem to be driven by what is known as ‘selection effects’.
“In other words, the fact that children in single-sex schools tend to come from households with higher socioeconomic backgrounds who tend to perform better in school in any case helps explain the gaps we see in performance between the different school types.”