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I went to a single-sex school but I wouldn't send my daughter there

I went to a single-sex school but I wouldn't send my daughter there


While waiting for my daughter at the school gates last week, I observed a group of 10-year-old boys and girls having fun. One of the boys had stolen a girl's backpack, another girl had joined the mission to get it back, and a merry melee ensued. Happy, because even though the girls were teaming up against the boys, they were relaxed enough with each other to engage in a good old fight.

There was none of the self-consciousness we see elsewhere, in almost every professional or personal interaction between the sexes, and I found myself thinking that if only we could preserve the naturalness of these relationships in amber and continuing into adulthood, that would do it. erase so many societal problems.

I chose to send my daughter to a co-ed school because I very much want that for her. Because at university, at work, in her friendships and relationships, I want her to be able to come up against men. Because, as the chairman of governors of the Abingdon Foundation said last week, after the school announced its decision to admit girls for the first time since its founding in 1256, it had become clear to them that the life skills of teamwork, emotional intelligence, mutual understanding and the ability to relate to others are better fostered in a mixed environment and one that more closely reflects real-life conditions .

Abingdon is the latest in a string of top single-sex schools to become coeducational, although, admittedly, the reasons are not purely ideological. Particularly in the UK private school sector, spiraling costs linked to the Labor Party's looming VAT plan are a factor. All of this helps to explain why, in just the last five years, Westminster (my alma mater), Winchester and Charterhouse have chosen to become coeducational. Simply: the demand is there.

However, the latest figures show that 66 per cent more girls than boys are still educated in single-sex schools, and it is telling that none of the leading girls' schools Cheltenham Ladies College, Wycombe Abbey, Camden School for Girls and North London Collegiate plans to do the same. Boys may be better off in the presence of girls, that is the glaring message, but both academically and in terms of personal development, the impact of boys on girls remains negative. And sadly, according to the latest 2022-23 figures released by the Girls School Association, it is true that girls in single-sex schools continue to outperform their counterparts in mixed schools in almost every subject.

This doesn't surprise me. But I still believe it would be better if every British school became coeducational tomorrow. It’s not that I buy the argument that academic success isn’t everything. If the ultimate goal is a world of equal opportunity between the sexes, if we don't want to later rely on quotas to level the playing field, academic success matters enormously. But if you remove an animal from its natural habitat, it will have a hard time readjusting, and I would bet that everywhere in Europe, where the culture of single-sex is much less prevalent and children have grown up in nature, to speak, this disparity does not exist.

Every reason given by the mixed resistance only strengthens my argument. We were inspired by Maya Angelous's advice for young women to take up space, the headteacher of St Helen and St Katharines School in Oxfordshire wrote this week in a letter to parents, adding that staying no Mixed sport allowed them to focus on physical activity and be proud of their strength. However, the spaces these girls occupy will ultimately be shared with men, and they will be able to focus on physical activity and galvanize their strength around men.

If learning to fight like a girl is as important as countless books, memes, and T-shirts tell us, what good does it do us to perfect this skill in an artificial environment where implied opponents have been removed? Sexist stereotypes will always exist, sexist harassment will always exist. The single-sex education model would lock girls in a bubble, until college or their first job, where they can then receive lessons and self-help manuals on how to make their voices heard and their opinions in a room full of people. men, how not to be silenced or intimidated by these men.

I learned to do this in my co-ed school. I admit that I was intimidated and embarrassed the first time I started to answer a question in my English class, only to be drowned out by a ruckus of I can see your bra strap! But the second time something similar happened, I spoke over the heckling and the third time I heckled back. Men's attempts to shake down or insult women in the workplace may become less overt as adults (now you'd have to have a professional death wish to taunt us about visible bra straps in a bathroom). meeting), but when they arise in a myriad of different forms, we should know how to deal with them.

Vicky Bingham, headteacher of North London Collegiate School, insists girls' schools are more important than ever today because, in the age of social media and AI, where a disproportionate number of males of Silicon Valley make decisions and write algorithms that will shape our lives. , female voices and values ​​are stifled. Girls’ schools incubate confidence and want to defy expectations.

Once again, isn't the idea of ​​an incubation period for young women counterproductive? Wouldn't they have a greater ability to fight pathogens (humans) and feel confident with them if exposed to them early on? Furthermore, as someone who attended a girls' school between two co-ed schools, I have no doubt that the most vicious attacks on my self-confidence came from other girls. It may not fit our boys' narrative about the enemy, but large groups of girls together bring out the worst in each other. Just like boys steeped in machismo become toxic, to use an expression I hate, girls also become hyper-feminized (pronounced bitchy).

About this narrative: one that was concertedly pushed before the advent of #MeToo and reached a crescendo in 2017 when the introduction of separate transport for men and women was actually presented as a solution; one that would portray us as lifelong antagonists rather than two sides of the same coin. What could be more detrimental to our personal and professional development, to our relationships, to whisper the general cheerfulness of life?




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