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Single-sex schools are tackling the gender pay gap

Natalie Argile
June 7, 2023

“Single-sex schools do not promote gender equality”.

“A mixed gender school is more diverse and teaches equality”.

These are just some phrases regularly touted by those eagerly attempting to discredit single-sex education in this country. And why wouldn’t they. An end to single-sex education is a no-brainer for those running mixed schools. It means more students, more money and a wider appeal.

Earlier in the year, Westminster School in London became the latest to turn its back on the single-sex model and embrace co-education. Now only six percent of schools in England are single sex. This is hailed by many as an undeniable step towards a more equal world between men and women.

As the head teacher at an all-girls school, however, I’m here to tell you that this is not the case. Single-sex education is the single greatest tool in fostering female empowerment and creating the female leaders of tomorrow. And it must be protected.

Same sex environments have been proven to reduce the prevalence of gender stereotyping within the classroom, allowing girls access to subjects they may have otherwise avoided or been discouraged from.

There is no such thing as ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ subjects – they are merely disciplines that anyone can learn about regardless of gender. However, I have seen first-hand how these can still ring true to some in schools, despite growing awareness.

Single-sex schools not only allow girls to tackle oppressive gender stereotypes, but such environments have also been found to generate students who are more gender-salient – a key trait to have when they leave school.

In all-girls education, students do not run the same risk of being elbowed out of leadership roles by more boys who may shout louder. This may go some way in explaining why so many educated at girls’ schools go on to leadership roles in the workplace. Just look at Theresa May’s cabinet in 2018. Of the six women at the table, five were educated - at least in part - at girls’ schools.

In a culture where girls can be surrounded by other girls allows them to truly shine, and you often see them seamlessly taking up leadership positions without a worry of being squeezed out. Girls become effective leaders in societies and in the classroom, utilising every inch of the curriculum to develop themselves academically and personally.

In an all-girls environment, girls set the culture. Nearly 87 per cent of girls’ school students feel as though their opinions are respected by being in an environment that allows them to express themselves and take risks.

Girls are the female leaders of the future, and not just in the Arts. Nationally, there remains a serious lack of female representation within STEM. Girls are famously less likely to study STEM subjects at university, and still fewer go on to have careers in this field.

According to research from the Girls’ Schools’ Association, girls in single-sex education are 2.5 times as likely to take STEM subjects such as Further Maths and Physics at A Level, compared to girls at mixed schools. Research also shows that, compared to coeducated peers, girls’ school graduates are 3 times more likely to consider engineering careers.

Girls in single-sex education are 2.5 times as likely to take STEM subjects Quote

This is particularly pertinent as the gender gap in science and technology industries continues to be so staggeringly high - female take up is almost 20 percent less. But positive research from Australia shows that girls were far less likely to miss STEM lessons when attending a single-sex school. This is a culture I am keen to replicate here in the UK.

I’ve taught at many schools, both mixed and single-sex, and have been impressed by the fantastic opportunities offered to all students.

However, as a young teacher I remember being surprised – and slightly dismayed - by behavior changes I witnessed when moving from an all-girls year 11 class one period to a mixed-gender Chemistry class straight after.

In a mixed environment, the female students slotted into more facilitating roles within conversations, avoiding academic risks and operating more in ‘listener mode’ than the students in the previous class.

It’s one of the many reasons why I’m so proud Blackheath High School continues to be a leading stalwart for all-girls education. Since joining the school back in 2015, I have watched girls flourish, free from the shackles of damaging gender stereotyping. In this environment many have gone on to study a plethora of male-dominated subjects at university. Computer science, physics, ethical hacking to name a few.

Mixed education works for some, but when it comes to girls to reaching their full potential and becoming leaders, I genuinely believe there is no better tool of delivery than single-sex schools.

To throw them away would be a tragic loss in our mission to tackle gender stereotypes and promote effective gender equality.

Natalie Argile Headshot39004

Natalie Argile is Head Teacher of Blackheath High School, an all-girls independent school in South East London.

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