Single-sex schooling versus co-education: Does it actually matter?

Single-sex schooling versus co-education: Does it actually matter?

Single-sex schooling versus co-education: Does it actually matter?


We have a long historical tradition of single-sex schooling in Ireland, with single-sex schools making up over a third of all secondary schools in the country. Perhaps for this reason and aided by recollections of our own experiences as students, most of us have very strong beliefs on the impact of gender on educational outcomes. Paradoxically, the evidence for one system over another is quite weak.

In short, there is no conclusive evidence for either single-sex schooling or co-educational schooling in terms of academic outcomes. It seems, on balance, both types of schools produce academically successful and socially balanced students.

For every study that shows that single sex-schools promote gender stereotyping and prejudice, you will find another to say that coeducational schools do not cater for the physiological brain differences and resulting learning styles between boys and girls. There are many reasons cited in each camp and advocates of both have produced data to uphold each of their convictions, but ultimately the research is not decisive.

While gender composition is one of the most obvious features of a school, and has attracted a lot of research, it is not necessarily an important factor in a school’s success, however judged. What the research does reveal is that the main determinants of a schools’ performance are the ability and socio-economic background of the pupils.

Our preference? We believe wholeheartedly that coeducation prepares our young people to live in a coeducational world. We believe that a coeducational environment contributes to the holistic development of individuals exposing them to a representative sample of what they will encounter upon graduation. But for now at least, it is just that – a belief, albeit a committed one – as the definitive evidence still alludes us.

But, without clear general findings, deciding whether to send your child to a single-sex school or a coeducational one has to be a matter of judgment. Weighing up the nature of your child, the ethos of the school, the quality and breadth of its instruction amidst other educational considerations are, it appears, more solid indicators for the ‘right’ decision.