What’s driving the rise of co-ed schools?

by Brett Henebery15 Jul 2015

Andrew Forbes, education officer at the Catholic Education Commission (CEC), told The Sydney Morning Herald this week that figures showing a decline in single-sex private schools reflect a growing preference towards co-ed schools by parents.
"The movement is definitely towards co-education. Every new secondary school that opens is co-ed these days," said Forbes.
But what is behind this phenomenon?
Last week, Murray Guest, principal of The Armidale School (TAS), told The Educator why he chose to make his school co-ed after 123 years of being single-sex.
“Clearly opening the gates to the other half of the population will bring the benefits of growth,” Guest told The Educator.

“These include greater teacher specialisation, wider subject choice, a broader and deeper co-curricular program, new facilities and new support structures for both students and staff.
“Beyond that, our co-curricular program, from drama, debating and music to sports, service and the outdoors, will naturally benefit from co-education.”
Schools in a similar situation, such as the Scots School in Bathurst and Geelong Grammar, have become co-ed over the past 30 years in order to cope with dwindling enrolments and finances.
However, the headmistress of one of Britain's most elite boarding schools says that single-sex education is better – at least for teenage girls who she said are spared the pressure of trying to impress boys in a “sexualised world”.

“In co-ed environments lots of girls when adolescence kicks want to be liked by boys not just for their intelligence and want to be popular with boys,” Rhiannon Wilkinson, head of Wycombe Abbey in Buckinghamshire told The Telegraph.
“In a girls environment you’re free from that. Most of the time you're focusing on your education, on who you are, you don’t feel you're not being yourself in the classroom, you're not afraid to throw yourself in the sport field.”
Likewise, Alun Jones, the new president of the Girls’ Schools Association believes separating the two sexes when it comes to school is a good idea.
However, Jones’ reasoning has more to do with preventing boys from being intimidated by academically superior girls. He said boys should be “protected” from the classroom domination of girls by being taught in single-sex classes between the ages of 11-16.
“If you have a very bright, very driven, very focused, very articulate lady, which a lot of girls are, that intimidates a boy in the classroom, especially boys of average ability,” Jones told The Sunday Times.
“The result is that boys don’t put their hands up to answer questions or they indulge in immature behaviour to avoid being shown up. Boys are falling behind as girls are doing better.”
But are boys and girls really that different when it comes to them being mutual peers in a classroom?
JoAnn Deak, who has spent more than thirty years as an educator and psychologist, says ‘yes’.
Deak believes "girls and boys are as different from the neck up as they are from the neck down".
“We are more alike than different anatomically,” Deak explained in her workshop: Males and Females: Significant Differences from the Neck Up
“However, once the brain is asked to work, brain imaging shows that female and male brains are wired quite differently.
“These differences lead to a variation in the way females and males approach almost everything: from learning to loving, from communicating to consoling.”
Nonetheless, such differences are unlikely to sway schools which are struggling with dwindling enrolments and finances from turning co-ed.