Research and studies suggest these are difficult times to be a boy. Girls tend to perform better than them academically throughout each key stage of a school career and the gap is widening. Seventy per cent of women now progress to university compared to only 50% of men. I can't help believing that the dramatic decline in the number of single-sex schools over the past 25 years has directly impacted these statistics.
Boys and girls learn differently. As a Headmaster of a single-sex school with well over 1,000 boys I know this from seeing it first hand, but there are a number of compelling studies which support this theory. I watch boys in my school move with consummate ease from the rugby field to singing in the choir to focusing on their academic studies. A boys-only school gives them this freedom as they are less constrained by gender stereotypes; they are much more likely to enjoy subjects which in co-educational schools are dominated by girls such as English and languages. Likewise, in a boys-only school, boys are much more likely to flourish in Art, Drama and Music.
In a boys' school the timetable, resources and individual lessons can be tailored to suit boys' learning styles, interests and hobbies. They prefer structured lessons and work well to guidelines and short-term objectives. Boys like competitive environments and perform better in end of term exams than in coursework and some boys-only schools teach the IGCSE which does not include a coursework element.
Teachers that have been in a boys-only environment for several years begin to develop a deep understanding of boys' moods and needs. They recognise that teaching boys is fun and challenging and you can enjoy their wit, energy and spontaneity. At single-sex junior schools, boys are more likely to experience and enjoy male teaching role models. Studies suggest that boys and girls develop physically, mentally and emotionally at different rates and good teachers recognise this. It is no coincidence that there is a growing trend for co-educational schools to teach boys and girls in separate classrooms.
And all this is much more important than the issue that is so often the first focus of the single sex debate - the advantage of a single-sex environment being that boys are not distracted by girls nor do they need to show off in front of them or be overly concerned about their appearance. This is true, but it is not the driving force.However, most single-sex schools will ensure there is interaction with the opposite sex. At Bolton School we are lucky in that we truly have the best of both worlds as the Girls' Division sits at the other side of the quadrangle and there are regular collaborations in drama, music and sport as well as academic enrichment.
The bottom line is that single-sex schools still work and this is reflected annually in the league table of top performing schools.
Mr Philip Britton
The Boys' Division is an HMC school. You can learn more about HMC schools here.