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Friday 14 December 2018

The gender effect: Mixed messages over single-sex schools' success

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Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Mixed schools are out-performed by single-sex schools when it comes to sending students to third level. However, one education expert said this has more to do with student background than a gender divide in the classroom.

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All-girls schools continue to dominate all others when it comes to sending students to college.

Over the past nine years they have sent 45pc of students on to universities in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

A further 36pc of girls to sit the Leaving Cert at a single-sex school since 2009 have been placed in another third level institute.

Less than a fifth of students (19pc) were not placed in a university or institute of technology.

The figures show similar outcomes for young males but a slightly lower percentage (42pc) of boys went on to university after sitting their Leaving Cert in a single-sex school. However, boys are more likely to secure a place at an institute of technology.

Of those to sit the Leaving Cert at an all-boys school every year since 2009, 41pc went on to secure a place at an institute of technology.

The Sunday Independent figures show that there is an increased likelihood of a student not securing a third level place after attending a co-educational school.

The Economic and Social Research Institute said that factors other than gender contribute to the differences between mixed and single-sex schools.

Social research professor Emer Smyth said a student's background and the way schools are run account for such differences.

"One thing you need to consider when you compare single-sex and co-ed schools is the set of students who enter those schools," said Ms Smyth.

"We did research on this issue and could see that single-sex schools are overwhelmingly voluntary secondary schools, so they tend to be more middle class in profile and they tend to have students, on average, of higher ability going into them from the get-go.

"What we did is we took account of that so we could compare like with like - for instance, comparing an advantaged student in a co-ed school versus an advantaged student in a single-sex school. What we found is that there were remarkably few differences when you took that into account.

"There were no overall differences in Junior and Leaving Cert grades in single-sex and co-ed schools."

Students who attend a mixed school are most likely to be placed in an institute of technology after completing their Leaving Cert.

Since 2009, 40pc of students to sit the exams in a mixed school went on to an institute of technology, 32pc secured university places and the remaining 28pc were not placed in third level.

Ms Smyth added that there are benefits to sending children to a co-ed school and that it is clear most students prefer to study in a mixed environment.

"There are big differences between schools but it is not to do with the gender mix of the schools.

"There are a number of other aspects, such as ability grouping, approach to subject provision, and quality of relations between teachers and students in the school. All of this shows that the school does make a difference, but it is not the gender mix of the school that is doing the work.

"When you talk to young people they would be more positive about a co-ed setting than about a single-sex school. They see it as more natural and true to real life. That is one of the benefits of going to a mixed school, that the students themselves are more positive about it. When you look at objective outcomes there is very little difference between the two on a whole range of things - like stress levels, body image and other factors.

"There is a folk myth that girls in particular do better in a single-sex school but we didn't find that," she added.

Sunday Independent

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