Single sex education is better for teenage girls as it takes the pressure off them to try and impress boys in a “sexualised world”, the headmistress of one of Britain's best boarding schools has claimed.
Rhiannon Wilkinson, head of Wycombe Abbey in Buckinghamshire, suggested female pupils were allowed to "remain girls for longer" at boarding school so they can focus on their work.
She added single boys hold girls back because girls mature faster and it is best for their education to grow in a "boys free" environment.
Speaking to the Telegraph, she said: "My wide educational experience in both mixed and girls’ schools has shown me clearly that girls are best served educationally in their teenage years in a boy-free work environment.
"Most psychological studies suggest that girls and boys develop at different rates and that girls are far in advance of boys through the teenage years: it is in a girl's best interests to be educated separately, at least until boys catch up with her."
A study published in 2013 by Newcastle University scientists found evidence that girls' brains can start maturing from the age of 10 while some men do not start that process until they are between 15 and 20.
The head of the independent girls' boarding school added: "A single-sex education does not mean a single-sex life and there are many opportunities at girls’ schools for girls to mix with boys socially and enjoy sharing time together in a non-competitive way."
Ms Wilkinson, who also taught a Haileybury, an independent co-educational school in Hertford, said another benefit of an all-girls education is that they can focus on their education without the distraction of wanting to please boys.
She said: “In co-ed environments lots of girls when adolescence kicks want to be liked by boys not just for their intelligence and want to be popular with boys.
“In a girls environment you’re free from that. Most of the time you're focusing on your education, on who you are, you don’t feel you're not being yourself in the classroom, you're not afraid to throw yourself in the sport field.”
She also said boarding schools take the pressure off girls to grow up quickly in a “sexualised world".
Ms Wilkinson said: "Girls in single sex schools thrive, they remain girls for longer, these places provide a bit of protection, a bit of relief from a highly sexualised world. Boarding schools are wonderful havens and oasis where girls can be happy and achieve what they need academically."
Her comments echoed earlier remarks by Tony Little, the headmaster of Eton, who said single-sex education allowed pupils to “be themselves” until later in life.
Mr Little said last month: "What does strike me is that in a single-sex environment, particularly at the age of 13,14,15, there is an opportunity for both boys and girls to be themselves for longer. To be 'boyish' for longer, to be young girls."