Selection in education is traditionally associated with ability or attainment. However, some schools select their pupils by gender. Single-sex schools play a significant role in UK education but what is it about them that continues to attract parents?
Whereas aspirational parents of the nineteenth-century sent their daughters to single-sex
schools because there was simply no viable alternative, aspirational parents of the twentyfirst
century select single-sex schools for their daughters because they consider them to be the
best. We know this because of a study undertaken to find out why today’s parents choose
single-sex schools for their daughters. This study looked at the aggregated results of the
School Pulse parental satisfaction surveys carried out in 80 independent schools between
2011 and 2013.
It compared the responses of parents of more than 9,000 girls in 36 girls’
schools and 34 co-educational schools, at both junior (up to year six) and senior (from year
seven) level and in both day and boarding schools. The responses – from parents with girls in
both girls’ schools and co-educational schools – were remarkably consistent. It was clear,
from the information parents provided about the other schools they had considered before
making their final choice that the vast majority looked at both single-sex and co-educational
schools. This suggests that whether or not the school was single-sex was not necessarily the
‘deal breaker’. Instead, the quality of teaching, pastoral care and extra-curricular provision
was far more important in parents’ minds and it just so happened that, for them, it was a
single-sex girls’ school that ticked more of those boxes. The big question – and the one that
evokes so much discussion and argument – is a chicken and egg conundrum. Which impact
comes first: the single-sex environment or the good teaching? To what extent is excellence in
girls’ schools down to the fact that teaching is done in single-sex environments and to what
extent is it due to their simply being good schools?