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Sunday 8 December 2019

Comment: Co-ed school offers more opportunity for students

Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

So, is it better to send your son or daughter to a single-sex or co-educational school? It's something everyone has a view on, but not one that is necessarily properly informed or based on anything other than the flimsiest of anecdotal evidence gleaned from their personal experience or that of friends and family.

There are those who hold with the view that boys and girls are better off being educated separately lest they be distracted by each other's presence in the classroom, while others believe that the co-educational environment produces the same or better results, and a more rounded individual in the process.

In terms of maximising the academic performance of both sexes, Professor Dympna Devine, Head of the UCD School of Education, says that the answer is a complex one. One major influencing factor is that of social background.

"When you take account of the social background of the student and you interlink that with gender and the gender profile of the school, what the research is showing us here in Ireland is that the schools where we have the poorest outcomes from a gender point of view are all-boys schools in working-class areas," Professor Devine says.

Academic outcomes in middle-class areas on the other hand tend to be very similar for all-boys schools and all-girls schools, she adds, pointing to the fact that the performance of students in both environments is driven by the mix of social class of the boys and the girls. There are high expectations both from the students of themselves and from their parents, Professor Devine says.

Co-educational schools do offer a possible advantage for students seeking to improve their learning outcomes and improve their academic results, according to research. Typically, mixed schools tend to offer a wider curriculum than single-sex schools and a broader range of teaching styles to cater for the diversity of the student body.

On this, Professor Devine says: "More widely in terms of gender, you do tend to get a wider curriculum on offer in co-educational schools because they tend to cater for a wider variety of learning styles. That is probably influenced by the diversity in gender. It is changing but you do tend to get a more stereotyped curriculum in girls' and boys' schools that are linked into what their [perceived] preferences are. You can imagine what those stereotypes would be. You're not going to get home economics being taught in an all-boys school, but you will have it taught in an all-girls school. Both boys and girls can do it [home economics] in a mixed school simply because it's on the curriculum."

Asked how boys and girls tend to fare academically compared to each other in the co-educational school environment, she adds: "The research says that girls in classes where there are boys will often hold back from outshining the boys. And we certainly do know from research that if you ask boys to rank their abilities, boys will tend to over-rank their abilities or their perception of their place in the class, whereas girls will tend to underestimate their position."

One area where mixed schooling certainly benefits both boys and girls is in the area of personal and social development.

"All those benefits accrue from the mixed-school environment and also possibly a slight switch in focus simply because you're dealing with diversity," Professor Devine says.

You can explore the data on each school by clicking here

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