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Dr Deborah Priest reflects on the social benefits of a single-sex education for girls.

Many of the points I discuss with families are captured succinctly in a book about education and human behaviour written by well known author and sociologist Katherine van Wormer. Wormer particularly investigated comparisons of learning experiences for girls in both single-sex and co-educational settings. In her book Human Behaviour and the Social Environment she noted the following:

  • girls exposed to high achieving boys in the classroom are apt to set their educational goals lower and to lack confidence in their own abilities than girls not so exposed
  • girls in classrooms with high achieving females are more likely to pursue ambitious educational goals even when of average ability themselves
  • greater exposure to high-achieving boys in high school negatively impacts girls’ science and math grades, according to recent findings from the National Bureau of Economic Research
  • teachers are shown to be more attentive to boys than girls in the classroom and to call on boys more often than girls
  • in general, teachers interact with boys more often than with girls by a margin of 10 to 30 percent, depending on the grade level of the students and the personality of the teacher
  • teachers’ bias toward boys is especially apparent in science and mathematics classes
  • when children learn with single-gender peers, they are more likely to attend to their studies, speak more openly in the classroom, and feel more encouraged to pursue their interests and achieve their fullest potential
  • girls in same-sex schools are more apt to excel athletically and to have opportunities for school leadership roles.

While the points noted above are well-known and widely reported, Wormer adds an additional long term and enduring benefit of a girl being educated in an all-girls’ school. She writes:

"when girls go to a single-sex school, they emotionally invest in relationships with each other. In contrast, when they attend a mixed-sex school, they put a lot of this energy into cross-gender relationships and dating. These boy-girl friendships most often get defused later in life for obvious reasons. The girl friendships that achieved an intensity in the all-girls school, on the other hand, can only grow stronger over the years." — Katherine van Wormer​

When I talk to former students at Ivanhoe Girls’ reunions, I can see clearly the long term connections that have been made and the importance of the shared experience of learning together at Ivanhoe Girls’. I can see the confidence nurtured in these women during their school days and I can see the agency it has brought them in adulthood.

Dr Deborah Priest