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The gender composition of a school is one if its distinguishing features. Most schools in the United Kingdom are now coeducational - boys and girls study together. But does educating boys and girls together make a difference to their performance and personal development?

There is no easy answer to choosing between coeducation and single-sex schooling. Some research in Britain has indicated that there are potential negative effects of coeducation on the exam performance and personal and social devel­opment of girls. However, there are obstacles to conducting research on the effects of coeducation. For example, in Britain single-sex schools are a minority of all schools and are more likely to be found in the inde­pendent sector.

Single-sex schools now tend to be fee-paying and selective in their student intake. Where these schools are academically successful, it is not necessarily because they are single-sex but may plausibly be attrib­uted to other factors, such as selection of pupils by academic ability and the class composition in the schools. Any compar­ison of the effects of coeducational and single-sex education is problematic, as any differences which are found may well be due to differences in other characteristics of the two types of school.

Our knowledge of the effects of coedu­cation has recently been enhanced by a major study of coeducation in the Republic of Ireland. This is a very suitable society in which to study the effects of coeducation because about half of the schools there are coeducational and half are single-sex. Furthermore, neither the coeducational nor the single-sex schools are especially associated with the fee-paying sector or with academic selection. We will describe the key findings of this research as well as commenting on some other method­ological issues which arise when studying this issue.

The impetus for the conduct of this major national study of coeducation was the publicity given to the findings of a small local study. That local study indicated that coeducation might be having some negative impact on the academic performance of girls. The results of the small study were reported first in the local media and then in the national media.

The question about coeducation most fre­quently asked by parents, students, govern­ment and academics is whether there is any difference in the effects of coeducational and single-sex schooling. The particular areas of interest are:

• Does coeducation result in poorer exam performance for girls and boys?

• Does it affect students' personal and social development?

• What accounts for any differences between coeducational and single-sex schools in exam performance and student development?

Of course, as soci­ologists, we don't base our conclusions on these feelings but on concrete evidence. In this study the evidence was gathered mainly through a survey. This was one of the largest studies of coeducation in any society in the world: 116 second-level schools were visited and over 10,000 students completed questionnaires. School principals and career guidance counselors were also interviewed.

The findings

Date: 2016-03-03; view: 169

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Inside the school (i) The curriculum | Coeducation and personal and social development
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