Co-ed or single sex? The arguments for and against each system will be familiar and independent schooling offers examples of both. Evidence has suggested for a long time that teenagers achieve better exam results when they are in single-sex classes, although this effect appears to be more pronounced at GCSE than at A level. But education is about a great deal more than exam results. Do girls in co-educational schools avoid STEM subjects at A level because convention has it these subjects are unfeminine? Are boys in co-ed classes unwilling to engage emotionally or creatively because they think it is unmanly? Such perceptions might seem outdated to modern parents, but even a cursory glance at teenage popular culture will reveal from where such self-limiting conceptions may come.
Yet it would be a mistake to assume that gender stereotyping among pupils is the same over all age groups – the youngest pupils as well as those at the top of schools often seem to have a more straightforward understanding of who they are and simpler interactions with the opposite sex. Perhaps it is not surprising that it is often the angst-ridden years of puberty when things become complicated in class. Fairly straightforward up to Year 8 and increasingly grown up and considerate from the sixth form, Years 9, 10 and 11 can be more problematic. Unfortunately, Year 11 is also GCSE year when any negative effects may have lasting consequences, most obviously in disappointing results, but possibly in a pupil’s choice of A levels and consequently even their choice of career. It is sobering to think of potential doctors, engineers and teachers who may have been diverted off course by transient adolescent insecurities, obsessions and fluid cultural convention.
On the other hand, many people see co-education as fundamental to the natural social development of a child. Don’t we all want to see our children comfortable and confident in their relationships with the other sex? Co-education means children can get used to each other’s foibles as well as qualities in ordinary day-to-day life – getting frustrated with each other as well as enjoying each other’s qualities. If young people do not reach that point before they arrive at university or enter work then we have clearly not prepared them well enough.
The diamond model is a creative solution to the question ‘which is better then?’. In this system, boys and girls are taught in mixed groups up to a certain age (the lower point of the diamond) then in separate classes for the middle part of their schooling (usually aged 13 to 16) and then together again for the sixth form (the higher point of the diamond).
Although this is not a new idea, it seems to be gaining popularity, with nearly 20 schools in the UK using a version of the model. Many schools that have adopted such a system have done so at the same time as moving from single sex to co-ed and this is the case at Leweston. These schools may be focused on embracing the advantages of co-ed but unwilling to leave behind the compelling strengths of a single-sex education.
The diamond model is a creative solution to the question ‘which is better then?’
Since we announced at Leweston that we were going to use the diamond model, prospective and current parents have asked – why choose a diamond model over full co-education? The answer is simple: there is strong evidence that girls and boys learn better in single-sex environments in key subjects. The diamond structure allows both sexes to benefit from tailored learning and delivery techniques at an important stage in their development. Rather than increasing gender divisions, the model breaks down the stereotyping of subjects as being seen as more suited to one sex or the other. With the same curriculum taught to both genders, girls may be encouraged to be active in science and boys may engage more with the humanities and creative arts.
The power of the model is borne out by results. For example, Independent Schools Council (ISC) data published in 2016 revealed GCSE performance for girls and boys to be higher in a diamond model environment than in a fully co-ed one. In diamond schools 96.4% of girls achieved 5 A*–C grades compared to 89.7% in a co-ed environment, and 97.8% of boys compared to 87.6%. Interestingly there was no difference in attainment at A level.
Of particular interest to parents of boys is research published in School Effectiveness and School Improvement which revealed that boys perform better when outnumbered by girls, specifically, in a 60:40 ratio. The positive academic attributes of girls such as higher motivation and concentration levels positively influence boys.
At Leweston, our version of the diamond will see girls and boys taught in separate classes from Years 9 to 11 for maths and sciences where gender separation has been shown to have the greatest benefit. We hope boys and girls will not only achieve their best grades but also find themselves in a position to make strong A-level and career choices.
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