The value of co-education

‘Think equal, build smart, innovate for change’

The issue of single sex education versus the co-educational approach is a long established and ever engaging educational debate. Proponents of single sex education point to the benefits that this approach has. They are often more vociferous than those on the co-educational side of the fence. I’m aware that there are merits in both systems.

I’ve worked in both single sex and co-educational schools. I taught at a boys’ only school and have worked in boarding houses populated entirely by adolescent young men. All were fine institutions doing a great job and I enjoyed being part of them (apart from the peculiar smell that comes with a Year 9 boys’ dormitory.) For the last twenty years or so I have been working in a co-educational environment. There are differences between the two systems and both have certain strengths. A few schools have adopted a diamond model which sees primary education conducted in a co-educational manner, a split occurring in secondary with a final reuniting in the Sixth Form.

pupils learning co-educational values building with Kapla

On balance, I favour co-education. No big surprise there, but it is perhaps worth explaining why. Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, we live in a co-educational world. There are very few areas in which women and men do not work together. If education is preparation for later life then it would seem sensible to learn to co-operate and respect each other from an early age. One hopes that by the time that the end of secondary education is reached such respect, tolerance and understanding has been achieved. I’m not sure that a girls only or boys only situation is going to help with this. We as a school have to remember to celebrate the success of both women and men – a quick look at the naming of our buildings on the Senior School campus would suggest that we are ready to celebrate the achievements of both men and women. Secondly, I think that working with co-educational classes makes us as teachers think carefully about what it is we are doing.We are conscious of trying to be inclusive and ensuring that all have the chance to answer questions or show their excellence. We have to ensure that we have tasks that are accessible and interesting to all members of the class. Thirdly, I believe that by educating co-educationally we are giving our young people the opportunity to consider what constitutes a healthy relationship based on respect.

Today is International Women’s Day and this year’s slogan is ‘Think equal, build smart, innovate for change’. By offering young people the opportunity to learn together I hope that we are doing something to promote the idea of thinking equal.

Nicholas Hammond