After last week’s fantastic Junior School Showcase I was talking to a father whose daughter had joined us from a co-ed school earlier in the year and he was describing his daughter’s renewed enthusiasm for school in general and for maths in particular. I sent him a research summary I had recently read and thought it would be of interest to most parents.
University of Sydney researchers’ Kester Lee and Judy Anderson have found that “ girls in single-sex schools have the most positive attitudes to mathematics and girls in co-educational schools have the least positive attitudes. In fact, their study found that girls in single-sex schools were the most positive of all students, followed by boys in single-sex schools, then co-educational boys and finally co-educational girls. Lee and Anderson concluded that: “For the girls involved in this study, students in single-sex settings resulted in much more favourable attitudes towards mathematics than those in coeducational settings.”
These research findings are not new to us, as they are replicated in similar studies internationally, nor are they of surprise to us, but they do reinforce that single sex school environments are ones in which girls realise greater potential. The experience of being in a girls’ school – whether it is a junior, middle or senior school – acts as what researchers call “a protective factor” in allowing girls to develop a view of self which is less affected by “gendered expectations” – girls are freer to develop mathematical and scientific skills in all girls environments, with skilful teaching by girls’ education specialists. The end result of this kind of gender free learning is demonstrated by the fact that 50% of our last three graduating cohorts have gone on to STEM based tertiary courses.
The article goes on to say that:
“Lee and Anderson note that their findings are in “strong agreement” with a 2014 Irish study of four schools by Prendergast and O’Donoghue which found that students at a single-sex male school reported enjoying mathematics the most, followed by students at a single-sex female school, while at the co-educational schools, male students enjoyed mathematics significantly more than female students. Lee and Anderson’s findings also strongly agree with a 2010 Australian study by Tully and Jacobs which found that girls from single-sex schools outscored boys on measures of self-perception of mathematical skill and ability.
The University of Sydney researchers write that the gender differences in attitudes to mathematics in co-educational schools “raises the larger issue of gender stereotyping and possible impacts of school setting”. It may be, they argue, that girls in co-educational schools “are more likely to conform to gender stereotypes”, whereas girls in single-sex schools may have more freedom not to conform to “gendered expectations”. Lee and Anderson conclude that this has implications for how educators address negative attitudes towards mathematics, noting that some co-educational schools have introduced single-sex mathematics classes.” (Source: Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia)
Mrs Lynda Reid