Steve Spriggs: Boys’ Schools

In his latest post, Steve Spriggs discusses boys’ schools…

The claim from the headteacher of a well-known boys’ school that all-male learning will soon be consigned to the education graveyard, along with blackboards, the cane and pink custard, is a little premature in my view. Guy Sanderson, who heads the independent Eltham College in south-east London will be accepting girls aged seven and 11 from 2020 tells The Sunday Times“the tide is definitely retreating for boys’ schools” and “if we want to prepare students properly for the future, this [admitting girls] is the best way of doing it”.

I wonder if this is due more to circumstances than a change of feeling at a school that has been boys’ only since 1842. Rising fees mean that independent schools slug it out with each other to fill bums on expensive seats. Opening the door to both sexes maximises the chances of filling them. I know of girls’ schools, formerly convents, accepting boys because otherwise some A Level classes have just three students in them. Equally, boarding schools are accepting day students to fill out the classrooms. Schools that pride themselves on being highly selective find they are less picky about qualifications when the classroom or dormitory is only half full.

Sanderson does have some good points. He says that, due to his own single-sex education (school and then Trinity College, Oxford, which had only recently admitted girls), it took him until his 20s to realise females were “highly-skilled and intelligent”. Obviously keeping boys away from girls throughout adolescence and young adulthood is not healthy. Many single-sex schools partner with opposite schools nearby and they get together for social events, sports, theatre productions and extra-curricular activities. We’re talking about focusing in the classroom here, not banishing girls from existence so that when boys do meet them, they’re like aliens from outer space. 

Education is all about choice. Parents who pay for education (and the vast majority of single-sex schools are in the independent sector) are paying for choice and for what suits their child the best. Whether the school is single sex or co-ed is a factor taken into consideration alongside whether you want an academic hothouse or a place that thrives on its pastoral care. They know their child and Sanderson is aware more than most that not every parent wants the same thing. When Eltham College started accepting girls into the Sixth Form many years ago, one parent attempted (unsuccessfully) to sue the school for disrupting her son’s education.

And let’s think about the girls here (as he is talking specifically of boy’s schools not single-sex over co-ed). Over the years, studies have shown the girls thrive better in single-sex environments. Eliminate boys’ schools and you probably reduce the amount of girls’ schools available and that might not be welcomed as warmly. 

I don’t think the writing is on the wall for all boys’ schools just yet but if fees continue to rise, more of them might find opening their doors to girls is the only way they can protect and prepare for theirfuture, not the young men in their charge.

 

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