Why a girls' school?


Why a girls' school?

Thursday the 23rd of July, 2015

Heather McRae looks at the difference an all girls' school makes to your daughters education.

A parent recently visiting Diocesan from Europe commented on the number of girls’ schools in New Zealand and questioned why there are no longer many independent boys’ schools. We provided a brief summary of research demonstrating that girls achieve best in single sex schools and the parent suggested that this information should be much more widely shared. Certainly, across the Tasman, and in the UK, similar statistics demonstrate that girls’ schools provide unparalleled opportunities for girls. In a learning environment that is free from gender discrimination girls achieve greater academic success, are more confident and assertive, and are more likely to study science, technology and mathematics (STEM) subjects and participate in physical education. Post-school they are more likely to pursue tertiary study and careers in STEM, hold leadership positions and earn higher wages.

Australian girls’ schools consistently perform highly in the annual NAPLAN reading, writing and numeracy tests. The Australian newspaper’s analysis of the 2014 NAPLAN data shows that 46 out of 109 schools ranked in Australia’s ‘Top 100 Secondary Schools’ are girls’ schools. This is a remarkable achievement given that approximately 7% of Australian secondary schools are girls’ schools.

These results are also borne out in Year 12 academic outcomes, with girls’ schools across Australia regularly featuring in lists of the ‘top’ schools for Year 12 tertiary entrance scores. For instance, in Victoria, the Good Schools Guide’s release of the ‘Top VCE schools’ for 2014 shows that nine of the top 20 schools are girls’ schools (not including Haileybury Girls’ College, a single-sex parallel campus of Haileybury College).

In New Zealand, girls from girls’ schools were awarded 39.4% of the country’s Top Subject Scholarship Awards in 2012 and 51.1% of Top Subject awards in 2013. In the United Kingdom in 2012, the 5% of girls attending schools belonging to the Girls’ Schools Association were awarded between 19.8% and 25.9% of A* grades awarded to girls in Chemistry, Physics and Further Maths and 31.7% of A* grades awarded to girls in French.

The fact that girls’ attending girls’ schools are more likely to take advanced mathematics, physics and chemistry than girls at co-educational schools speaks to the different environment that exists in girls’ schools, where gender stereotypes are less prevalent and students are encouraged to take academically-challenging mathematics, technologies, and physical science subjects to gain entry to tertiary courses and pursue male-dominated but more highly-paid careers in STEM fields.

While the topic of academic achievements at different types of schools is currently a matter for much debate, with many arguing that high academic achievement is related to a student’s socio-economic status (SES), not the school they attend, there are many other factors that contribute to a student’s success at school. Indeed, academic outcomes are only one measure of a well-rounded education.

Girls fill every single leadership position for every activity in every year level of girls’ schools, from the Head Prefect to Heads of House, Council Heads, tutor representatives, to the most junior of sports teams. Girls also play all instruments in the orchestra, stage band or jazz band, from the bassoon and tuba to the drums and electric bass guitar. In a girls’ school, girls lead and participate more freely in discussions, they feel empowered to behave more competitively and to take more healthy risks, such as trying new activities.

The most important factor for classroom learning that distinguishes girls’ schools, however, is that there are no boys in the classroom to distract, discourage or overwhelm girls, and nor are teachers trying to teach to two groups who have differing needs and interests. Diocesan’s NCEA statistics shows the difference that an all girls’ school makes.

These differences do not mean that girls do not learn in other schools, it means that the opportunities that are provided by girls’ schools enable girls to achieve their potential.

We acknowledge input from the Australian Alliance of Girls Schools and their eBrief Report on the Advantages of Girls’ Schools.