WHY DIAMONDS MAY BE A BOY’S BEST FRIEND TOO – Kate Reynolds, Head of Leweston School

Leweston School, Dorset

If men really were from Mars and Women from Venus, where would they choose to send their offspring to school?  Co-ed or single sex? The arguments for and against each system will be familiar and Sherborne offers examples of both. Evidence has long suggested teenagers get better exam results from single-sex classes, although this has been more pronounced at GCSE than A level, but of course education is about a great deal more than exam results. Do girls in co-educational schools for example avoid STEM subjects at A level because convention has it that they are unfeminine? Do some girls even exaggerate their lack of technical or scientific understanding thinking that mathematically and scientifically challenged is attractive to the boys? ‘I just don’t get Physics..’ Are boys in co-ed classes unwilling to engage emotionally and creatively thinking that to do so is unmanly?

Such perceptions might seem outdated to us as modern parents, but even a cursory glance at teenage popular culture will reveal from where such self-limiting conceptions may come. Even a visit to the gym is likely to involve ceaseless video images that would make a Pathé film clip seem positively emancipated.

Yet it would be a mistake to assume that gender stereo typing among pupils is the same issue 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. Of course by the time they reach university or the workplace we expect them to have got the hang of themselves and each other.

Perhaps it is not surprising that it is often the angst-ridden pubescent years when things get complicated in class. Fairly straightforward up to Year 8 and increasingly grown up and considerate from the Sixth Form, National Curriculum Years 9, 10 and 11 as potentially more problematic. Unfortunately Year 11 is also GCSE year when any negative effects of this may have lasting consequences, most obviously in disappointing results, but possibly in a pupil’s choice of A levels and consequently therefore even their careers. 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 will 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 does not imply peace and harmony and it is emphatically not meant to be a party. It means children getting the hang of each other’s foibles as well as qualities in ordinary day to day life: getting frustrated at each other’s stubbornness as well as marvelling at their creativity. If they do not reach that point in good time 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?’. 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.

Whilst this is not a new solution it is one which seems to be gaining popularity, with around fifteen schools nationwide using a version of the model. In limiting the flexibility of the school with regards to class sizes in the separated years it is expensive to operate and this may be why its uptake has been limited so far. Many of the schools which 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: focused on embracing the advantages of co-ed, but unwilling to leave behind those very compelling strengths of single sex they have seen at first hand.

At Leweston, which is in the process of moving from all girls to co-ed from nursery to A level, girls and boys will be taught in separate classes from 13 to 16 (Years 9 to 11) for Maths and Sciences where gender separation has been shown to have the greatest benefit. That way we hope that boys and girls will not only achieve their best grades but also find themselves in position to make strong A level and career choices and their parents won’t have to choose between Mars and Venus.

Leweston School, Dorset


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