A study of people now in their 40s has revealed that those who went to single-sex schools were more likely to study subjects not traditionally associated with their gender than those who went to co-educational schools.
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A study of people now in their 40s has revealed that those who went to single-sex schools were more likely to study subjects not traditionally associated with their gender than those who went to co-educational schools. Girls from single-sex schools also went on to earn more than those from co-educational schools.
The research, by the Institute of Education’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies, has followed almost 13,000 individuals born in 1958 throughout their lives and so can tell us about longer-term consequences of types of schools.
The researchers found that at age 16, girls in girls’ schools were more likely to gain maths and science A-levels, and boys in boys’ schools more liable to gain A-levels in English and modern languages than their peers in co-educational schools. Girls and boys in single-sex schools also had more confidence in their ability to do well in these subjects.
The pattern carried through to university, with women from girls’ schools more likely than co-educated women to gain qualifications in subjects typically dominated by men and to go on to earn higher salaries in their jobs.
Researcher Dr Alice Sullivan explains: “Single-sex schools seemed more likely to encourage students to pursue academic paths according to their talents rather than their gender, whereas more gender-stereotyped choices were made in co-educational schools. This suggests that co-educational schools need to examine the ways in which they have, probably unwittingly, enforced powerful gender stereotypes on both girls and boys.”
Researcher Professor Diana Leonard says: “Although having been to a single-sex school is not significantly linked to a gender atypical occupation, girls from single-sex schools do get higher wages in later life. This could be because they are carrying out more technical or scientific roles even within female-dominated jobs, for example, becoming science teachers rather than French teachers, or because they have learned to be more self-confident in negotiating their wages and salaries.”
But single-sex education brought almost no advantage in terms of exam results. Girls from girls’ schools did only slightly better in exams than their co-educational peers. Boys did no better at all (allowing for differences in ability and family background). While girls at girls’ schools were slightly more likely than girls in mixed schools to gain five or more O-levels at grades A – C, this advantage did not carry through to further and higher education. There was no impact of single-sex schooling on maths test scores at age 16, nor did single-sex schooling make it more likely for pupils to gain any A-levels at all, to get a university degree by age 33, or to enter high-status occupations.
Dr Sullivan says: “Our research emphatically does not support the suggestion that achievement is higher in single-sex schools.”
Other findings showed that boys in boys’ schools were more likely to dislike school than boys in co-ed schools, but both sexes were less likely to truant in single-sex schools.
Single-sex schooling appeared to have no impact on the likelihood of marriage or childbearing, or on the quality of partnerships formed. Neither did it appear to affect the division of labour in the home, nor attitudes to women’s work outside the home. However, men who had attended single-sex schools were more likely to be divorced by age 42.
This research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
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Notes for editors
The data used in this study come from the National Child Development Study (NCDS), which has been tracking the lives of everyone born in England, Scotland and Wales in one week in 1958. The research team noted who was attending single-sex schools at age 16 in 1974 and followed their experiences in university, employment, marriage and family life later on. Further information on this project.
The Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) is an ESRC resource centre based at the Institute of Education in London. In addition to NCDS, CLS manages two other birth cohort studies – the 1970 British Cohort Study and the Millennium Cohort study. Further information on the work of the centre is available at www.cls.ioe.ac.uk.
The researchers on this project are Heather Joshi, director of CLS and professor of economic and developmental demography; Diana Leonard, professor of sociology of education and gender; and Alice Sullivan, CLS research and teaching fellow.
The Institute of Education is a college of the University of London, specialising in teaching, research and consultancy in education and related areas of social science and professional practice.