Girls and boys flourish together

4th April 2008 at 01:00
While I understand the bunker mentality that might lead to a one-sided defence of single-sex education in the face of the decline of outdated social models ("Boys will only flourish in single-sex schools", TES, March 28), the positive message of co-education should at least be represented.

I am sure Rosalind Hayes and I would agree that whether a school is good or bad is not defined by the gender of its pupils, and that there are examples of successful all-boys, all-girls, single-sex plus mixed sixth form, and fully co-educational schools. I have taught in all these combinations except all-girls, and am conscious that there are problems acquiring evidence of the civilising effect of girls. But I know I have seen it, and it would not be hard to find anecdotal evidence that legions of teachers have also seen it.

What is lacking from Ms Hayes' article is any analysis of the fact that schools cannot be judged solely by what happens in school. What counts is the extent to which pupils are prepared for life afterwards, both at university (on which Ms Hayes expresses no view as to the benefits of co-education) and beyond, where - unless we are preparing pupils for closed religious orders - there is more call for people with experience of working with the opposite sex.

The stereotyping that underlies her conclusions - based on a boy scrambling around in an airport lounge while a girl happened to be reading - is hardly convincing, and represents a generalisation that is unfair to both genders. Equally specious is Ms Hayes's view of league tables: the reason all-girls schools dominate the top of the tables has much more to do with selection than gender; that's why we also find all-girls schools much further down the tables.

As head of an independent co-educational school (ages 3-18), I am pleased to say I don't see anything wrong with competition. At my school, there are plenty of opportunities for physical activity without there being any confusion about what behaviour is appropriate in class and what is more suited to the games field. Anyone who thinks this is the preserve of boys has never watched a lacrosse match. I am delighted to uphold as role models to my pupils both competitive and high-achieving men and women. Tellingly, I do not have to look far among our alumni and alumnae to find them.

Simon Corns, Headmaster, Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Blackburn.

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