Co-educational vs single-sex schools: how to choose what’s best?

The New Zealand school system offers both co-educational and single-sex options across the public and private system.

And when it comes to making a decision that can affect a child’s future, any parent knows the dilemma of making that call. More than half (57%) of parents are already concerned that their children have fallen behind in school due to COVID-19 lockdowns and the impacts of homeschooling, according to our OneChoice Kiwi Education Report, so it’s no wonder that many parents are wondering how they can offer their kids the best education possible. One of those questions is whether to opt for a co-ed or single-sex school.

There are significantly more co-ed schools around the country than single sex, with 2,415 co-ed and just 64 all-girl schools and 53 all-boy schools as of July 2020. So if you’re thinking you might prefer a single-sex school for your child, you will need to start making plans, as spaces are limited.

Here’s a little more about the advantages and disadvantages of each option, and how you might go about making that decision.

The advantages of co-ed schools

The key advantage of co-ed schools is possibly the most obvious – more diversity. At a time when young men and women are maturing, it can be beneficial to spend time with the opposite gender, make friends, learn to better communicate, and ‘demystify’ them to some extent.

There’s no single-sex universities or workplaces, so a co-ed school can ensure kids are prepared for the realities of the life that follows. And with one in three parents concerned that current school curriculums are not providing kids with the right skills to thrive in a professional working environment (according to our OneChoice Kiwi Education Report), early exposure to co-ed diversity could be a bonus for some students.

Importantly, co-ed schools also promote equality as both sexes are treated equally, with all students completing the same tasks, classes, and exams.

The disadvantages of co-ed schools

The major disadvantage to co-ed schools is that they can be distracting for young men and women. As relationships form and come apart, crushes inevitably occur, and hormones are flying through the air more than mozzies in summer, school work can sometimes come second.

Another possibility is the lack of confidence in the classroom. Young men and women can be more shy asking questions, offering answers, and engaging when there’s someone nearby they’re trying to impress, which could mean they miss out on learning opportunities.

The advantages of single-sex schools

There’s a growing body of evidence to show that students of both genders tend to perform better when attending single-sex schools.

One study compared young men in years 11 to 13 in New Zealand single-sex schools, and found that they gained NCEA qualifications, University Entrance, and New Zealand Scholarship passes in greater proportions than those in co-ed schools.

Studies for all-girls’ schools have found similar results.

Another potential advantage of single-sex schools is less bullying. One analysis found that 79% of girls at single-sex schools in Australia and New Zealand never or hardly ever experienced bullying, but that figure dropped to 71% in co-ed schools.

According to our OneChoice Kiwi Education Report, 63% of parents say that bullying is one of the top three concerns for their children, showing just how important it is for parents to find a safe education space for their kids. In addition to this, 58% of parents report that their child has experienced bullying at school, which is worrying to say the least.

The disadvantages of single sex schools

One of the downsides of single-sex schools is that it means less socialising with the opposite sex, which can make things more difficult for young adults learning to communicate and interact.

It can also mean that boys and girls can miss out on learning from one another. For example, boys may be able to pick up on the maturity of young women, and girls may be able to learn to be more outgoing and adventurous thanks to the influence of males.

Making the decision

Making the decision is a tough one, and often comes down to more than just the pros and cons of single-sex and co-ed schools, let alone choosing a career path from high school. From our OneChoice Kiwi Education Report, over 1 in 2 think too much pressure is placed on children to choose subjects when they may not have decided on their future career path.

For example, what does the student want? They might not be able to be trusted with deciding on what to have for dinner every night of the week (unless you’re ok with seven different types of takeaways), but their opinion should be part of the decision.

You should also consider the school’s reputation, regardless of whether it is single-sex or co-ed. In short, is it known for producing young men and women who work hard, achieve good grades, and are involved in cultural experiences such as sport and music?

And finally, don’t forget the practical side of things. There are far fewer single-sex schools throughout New Zealand, which could mean your child may need to attend a boarding house, or travel a long way each day.

With all of that in mind, it’s all about what’s best for your child and their future (a bit like life insurance, really). Make the most of school open days for a visit to get a feel for the place, and go with what’s best for you.