By Dean of Teaching and Learning, Nicole Blyth
The 60 Minutes special on Sunday, 7 October, Same-sex schools potentially harmful for developing minds, targeted the emotional side of this polarising debate. Big claims suggested there will be no single-sex schools by 2035. Yet I question the validity of this headline.
As parents we grapple with making the best choice for our children. With increasing activity in the media about single-sex versus co-educational schooling this is a hot topic in the community and for me a very personal one with a daughter in Kindergarten this year. I value having choice yet am fortunate to have access to research, and first-hand experience as an educator having worked in both single sex and co-educational environments.
The key difference for me is the confidence and energy the girls develop and bring, to an all girls’ classroom. It is a place where our girls can explore opportunities, find their voice, develop their passions, and gain the confidence to take on all life has to offer. Being part of the Penrhos community since 2002 has afforded me the experience to personally and professionally evaluate this big question.
The data is clear girls’ schools are helping their students to achieve an academic advantage. That said there is so much more to schooling than achievement statistics and the research supports the benefits of single-sex schooling from a range of perspectives. I believe well-being and the development of ‘soft-skills’ are so much more targeted in a single-sex school. At Penrhos we do this by creating a safe learning environment where no academic subject is off limits. Where it is ‘normal’ to ask questions, take risks, be creative and have a go at anything and everything as our girls grow up and discover who they are.
The learning environment nurtures and develops the skills girls need to be successful young adults. Whilst some say this does not reflect the real world like a co-education school, I argue it provides targeted preparation through adolescence which supports our girls to grow and achieve their goals resulting in personal success. There is plenty of opportunities for interactions with boys, from age appropriate social occasions to excursions, competitions and various performing arts co-curricular pursuits.
Beginning my time at Penrhos as a Science and Digital Technologies teacher, I was amazed by just how much more curriculum I could deliver in a lesson. My focus on the art and science of my teaching rather than taking a greater proportion of time for classroom management is a key motivator which continues to make teaching my favorite part of the work day. A recent staff survey showed my colleagues agree, working with the girls the classroom is the number one reason why teachers enjoy working at the College.
Over time I have seen subtle changes where STEM subjects are gaining popularity and it is ‘ok’ to be passionate about the subjects you love. The girls at Penrhos are slaying the stereotypes that girls don’t do STEM subjects which parallels 2017 research by Forgasz & Leder suggesting single sex schooling has a positive impact on subject selection choices for girls. This does not diminish pathways in The Arts, Languages, Humanities nor Sport, rather it provides balance which gives our girls options to find what they love to do and become more well-round individuals. The girls are spoilt for choice with the range of opportunities in terms of academic classes and co-curricular pursuits.
Diversity that includes strong female leadership is the norm, which creates the expectation that girls can and should take risks in developing and demonstrating their leadership skills. It is this type of culture which is empowering. Role models, both staff and students, who demonstrate that effort does influence achievement whether it be in relation to community service, health and well-being, in sporting arenas or the classroom show that we are all capable of growth across mind, heart, body and spirit.
This is for me the kind of influence I know will help my little girl flourish into the best version of herself. I know she will encounter life’s challenges as she progresses through school surrounded by some amazing staff, with a wealth of opportunity to find her passions. I am lucky she will take the journey with a wonderful group of peers, from families who whole-heartedly have joined me in choosing Penrhos, an all-girls school for their daughter.
Dean of Teaching and Learning