by Mrs Sarah Bakhtiari
Principal of Shoreham College
I have had the absolute pleasure of spending my career in fantastic, and very different, schools. From girls only to coeducational, from local to international and from secondary to sixth form to all through provision. I also consider myself blessed to have three daughters, all of whom are on the other side of compulsory education.
One moment it feels as though my daughters were hanging onto me for dear life and in the next breath it’s me hanging on to them, rather futilely, as they navigate university, graduate schemes and rights of passage such as festivals and holidays with friends. ‘Time flies’ is a well-worn cliché, but true nonetheless, and I suspect every parent of an adult feels the fleeting nature of their childhood. Anyhow, I digress to underline that this is a question I have experienced at home, as a parent, and at school as an educator.
Some of the things I worried about for my daughters: Would they be overshadowed by boys? Would they feel intimidated? Would they be confident to speak their mind? Would they be distracted?
I chose coeducational settings for my daughters because all of the above questions I asked so earnestly when they were three, and we were thinking about starting school, were just as relevant at senior transition and predictably as true now in adulthood. The difference now is that in life there is little or no option to choose a single sex environment and so rewinding to the start of school for them, I wanted them to be ready to understand what it feels to live, work and thrive in a coeducational environment. The careers that two of my daughters have subsequently chosen are traditionally male dominated ones and the fact that they earned their stripes in the classroom, alongside boys, means that they are well placed to prosper in these environments. They step forward, they know the value of their ideas and they allow no one, regardless of gender, to speak over them. It’s not easy but it is a skill carefully practised and honed and it is one which is being practised and honed in classrooms up and down the country.
The Smithers report (which is perhaps the most comprehensive piece of research conducted on the benefits and drawbacks of coeducation and single sex education) found that schools were successful, or otherwise, for reasons other than the gender of their pupils. The report explains that outcomes are most significantly affected by excellent teaching, good school management and a positive peer group culture. These things have all been evidenced to have a significant impact on pupil achievement. Whether classes are coeducational or single sex, was not found to have a bearing. I recognise this from my experience of leading schools and raising daughters.
Single sex schools might cite league tables as evidence for their model. The Smithers report cites selectivity of intake together with excellent teaching as having the most impact on league table performance. I hope that the days of gender stereotyping, where females need ‘this’ and males need ‘that’ are long gone from schools and from society. My challenge to anyone wishing to perpetuate gender stereotyping is that excellent teachers personalise the learning in their classrooms for the needs of the individual pupils within that classroom.
‘Everyone’s invited’ has sharpened society’s focus on the way in which we treat one another and the way that we educate our young people. The answer surely has to be genders working together, side by side, with a positive and creative culture, excellent teaching and a plethora of opportunities.
Please call 01273 592681 to find out more about what Shoreham College can offer you, or to arrange a personal visit at any time of the school year. www.shorehamcollege.co.uk