Choosing a single-sex or a co-educational school

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In the face of conflicting advice on whether single sex or coeducational schools are better, how is a parent to decide what is best for their child? Well, it’s all about choice says Barker’s Director of Coeducation Transition, and North Shore Mum, Melissa Brady.


I’ve spent time researching modern trends in education both in Australia and overseas. Despite all that research, discussion and writing, I cannot state that there is a perfect schooling system…because there isn’t! Independent, Catholic, Public, single-sex, coeducation, comprehensive or selective. One is not universally better than the other; they’re just different.

The question of whether coeducation or single-sex education is better remains somewhat open; you can find research to say pretty much whatever you’d like it to say. What I can tell you is that parents are the best judge for what is best for their child.  It is my view that a successful education system thrives on choice. Parents must choose what is right for their child and removing choice would be disastrous for the educational landscape in this country.

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Parents, think about exactly what you want from a school

What are the most important things you want from a school? Academic performance, a sports program, co-curricular offerings, performing arts, pastoral care and access to specialist programs are unique to each school.

Education has changed dramatically this century both in Australia and around the world. This generation of children haven’t seen a VHS tape, a cassette recorder and don’t know what it’s like to have to get up to change the TV channel. The world is different. It is one of the responsibilities of schools to teach transferable skills. Digital literacy, problem solving, team work and collaboration, adaptability, the ability to apply their knowledge in new situations, acceptance of difference, respectful disagreement. A focus on emotional intelligence as well as academics.

Each school has a culture, character and offerings particular to its context. But it is the visionary leadership, the presence of a supportive community of teachers and the whole school community being committed to the principles of equity and the fulfilment of individual potential which can take a school from good to great. This is what will ultimately determine achievement levels and a great school experience for our young people.

In Sydney,  there are very few coeducational Independent schools. Only 4% of Independent school places on the North Shore are for coeducation. Parents are offered very little choice and they should have all options available.  Independent single-sex schools dominate the Sydney Morning Herald end of year league tables, primarily because of the standard of teaching, school leadership, parent support and higher than average Socio Economic Scores. The fact is that most Independent schools in Sydney are single sex. Single sex schools will therefore top the performance tables – there are very few alternatives. The top performing school in NSW for the last decade based on ATAR is a coeducational selective school. However, academic performance is but one indicator of school efficacy. What makes a great school is much more complicated than marks on a page.

Tips for parents when choosing a school

  • Decide on what you want – what is most important? Is it academic performance, sports and co-curricular, pastoral care, performing arts? Ask the school what they are doing in these areas.
  • Read about the school, ask questions of parents and students.
  • Visit the school. Open days are great, but this is when the best of a school is on show. Try to do a tour on a regular school day, or even a Saturday to see the sports program in operation.
  • Be wary of phrases like ‘research states’ and ‘studies suggest’ without actually naming the researcher, the organisation or providing a link to the research.
  • Go with your gut – you know your child.

With thanks to Barker’s Director of Coeducation Transition, and North Shore Mum, Melissa Brady, @MsMelissaBrady

Melissa Brady is the Director of Coeducation Transition at Barker College in Hornsby.

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