Skip to main content

Should I Go To An All-Girls School?

Girls' School Benefits

Head's Blog: published 16th February 2023

Head Sue Baillie recently sat down to record her thoughts on the benefits, and relevancy, of an all-girls education in 2024.

Watch her video or read the full transcript below.

The benefits of all-girls education in 2024

There has been some discussion over the last year or so, in particular, about the relevance of an all-girls education in the 21st century. No surprise, really, in an age where we are acutely aware of the importance of an effective education for every child and also increasingly aware of the technological and social revolutions we are witnessing. I welcome these discussions.

Why? Because it gives an opportunity to bust the myth that girls' schools are leftovers of a time gone by, full of uninspiring teachers and girls who lack ambition and are limited by their single-gender environment. It also gives me an opportunity to explain why girls’ schools are needed, what they provide the women of tomorrow, and how they enrich the educational landscape.

Girls at Queen Margaret's are not shrinking violets. In a small girls’ school, there is room for every individual and every individual voice. Our girls are independently minded, articulate, thoughtful, and kind. And when they leave us, they have a sense of who they are and what matters to them. A strong moral core which will serve them well in the years to come. So, how do we achieve this?

Strong evidence to support the benefits of girls' schools

There is strong evidence that girls-only education leads to higher academic achievement, greater diversity of subject choice, stronger self-confidence and resilience, and enhanced career progression. Girls differ from boys; not on any intellectual or cognitive dimension, but in attributes and dispositions that have their greatest impact in childhood and adolescence, and which means that while girls don't necessarily learn differently from boys, their learning needs and preferences and indeed their experiences of school tend to be different from those of boys.

For example, girls prefer cooperative discussion-led learning environments. They adapt better to coursework tasks and collaborative project-based activities, and they respond to different forms of curriculum content. In a mixed classroom, some of those preferences are lost as they adapt their behaviour to the presence of boys, such as adopting more moderating roles in discussion and a reluctance to take risks. In co-educational classrooms, boys tend to monopolize discussion and take up more domineering roles in group work and in practical exercises.

Combatting gender stereotypes

Unfortunately, in society, as in schools, there is pressure on women and girls to conform to prejudicial gender roles. Gender stereotyping and differences in expectations and self-image tend to affect girls’ behaviour, attitudes, and choices unless they are checked and challenged at school. Girls should have the opportunity to be educated separately, not because they need protection - they are nobody’s victim - but because they deserve a level playing field. And try as we might, we are not yet in a society where that truly exists.

Lessons are tailored for girls

Teachers in a mixed environment tend to adopt styles and use content that seeks to maximize boys’ engagement and regulate their behaviour. Girls are assumed to be less problematic. In particular, teachers tend to ignore the strong correlation between high motivation and high anxiety in many high-achieving girls. But in girls-only environments, girls’ needs and preferences come to the fore and nothing is out of bounds. In our school and schools like this, girls take part in sports, for example, and continue to do so. They're not worried about the judgment of boys. They take on all roles in drama and do so with aplomb. They are natural leaders and culture shifters, and they're entrepreneurs - naturally.

This is not to suggest, though, that an all-girls’ school is different from an all-boys’, or that all girls are the same, but typical attributes, behaviours, and needs differ. Single-sex settings allow teachers and schools to focus more effectively on the needs of individual girls. There is evidence that girls achieve more when they are given their own dedicated space in which to develop.

In single-sex schools, girls are less likely to conform to gender stereotypes, are less constrained in their choice of subjects, show a greater propensity to take risks and innovate, perform better in examinations, have more opportunities to show leadership, and are more successful in the job market. These effects do not follow inevitably from the mere act of separating the sexes in education.

It's more than just the organisation

Single-sex education, to be successful, must be more than an organisational device. It needs to be underpinned by a set of principles whereby girls are nurtured, challenged, and empowered. Teachers in all-girl classrooms can focus on working with, but also challenging, girls’ propensities to seek security in structures and schedules. Teachers know that younger girls are particularly keen on well-structured lessons and gain confidence from the rehearsal of past understanding at the start of lessons with explicit links to next steps at the end.

Girls push boundaries and flourish

But girls-only classrooms also provide the opportunity to push out, rather than simply police these boundaries, to challenge risk aversion, and to encourage adventurousness. In coed settings, girls often adopt roles that reflect others’ views of them and which tend to narrow their choices both academically and non-academically. In coeducational contexts, girls are more likely than boys to participate but less likely to assume leadership roles, both in extracurricular groups and in activities.

Girls' schools are relevant in 2024

Coeducation is nowadays the norm insofar as a majority of schools are mixed. But not being the norm does not make single-sex schools abnormal. Girls’ secondary schools and colleges were originally established to equalise educational opportunities at a time when secondary and higher education were designed for, and dominated by, men in a more equal world. We still need single-sex schools because while society and co-educational schools are more gender-blind, they are still far from gender equal.

Girls' schools help develop society

Some proponents of co-educational schooling have argued that schools should reflect society and their gender composition, but I would argue that schools should be set up to challenge, not simply reflect and reinforce the gender asymmetries that still pervade the wider world. I rather like the idea of the Girls’ Day School Trust, that single-sex education serves a subversive purpose.

Why girls' schools are needed

Girls’ schools seek to challenge traditional gender stereotypes, give girls space to develop a strong sense of themselves and their value, and nurture the confidence to make their own choices, free of any sense that the script has been written for them. They offer a girls-only space to complement the rest of a girl’s life world, which by all accounts does not exclude boys, even when girls are boarding.

Queen Margaret's and schools like it are relevant and as needed now as they have ever been. Not just because there are still inequalities to mitigate, but because quite simply, every child deserves the very best opportunity to learn and develop as an individual, and girls’ schools provide that opportunity; unashamedly and without compromise.

So, perhaps the next question at the dinner party table is this: why are there not more of such opportunities for boys?

Sue Baillie - All Girls' schools

You may also be interested in...