Empirical evidence on the coeducational/single-sex schooling debate

Year: 1994

Author: Smith, Ian D., Bornholt, Laurel J.

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The issue of whether girls and/or boys are advantaged by attending single-sex or coeducational schools continues to be debated in Australia and overseas. This paper begins by reviewing the evidence on which this debate is based. A five-year-long research project conducted in two Sydney secondary schools which changed from single- sex to coeducational status is discussed in terms of the effects on student self-concept, achievement in English and mathematics, and teacher perceptions. The major findings were that student self- concept initially declined in coeducational classes before rising to a level significantly above that measured before the coeducation process took place. Year 10 English and mathematics scores remained constant over the five years of the study, indicating that a change in school type did not disrupt students' level of achievement in these two subjects. Teachers perceived the coeducational schools as being socially advantageous for most students, but maintained that single- sex schools had academic advantages, especially for girls. The discrepancy between teacher perceptions and student achievement results was discussed with the teachers.

A follow-up study, conducted 10 years after the two schools became coeducational, found that overall self-concept levels remained as high as they had reached eight years earlier. Patterns of gender differences were very similar in the original and the follow-up study. The effective size of any gender differences was small (except for higher self-concepts about appearance for boys and about honesty for girls). Interviews were conducted with a small sample of students, parents, teachers and principals. Qualitative comments extracted from these interviews are used to illustrate some of the major findings. It is concluded that student self-concept had remained buoyant despite the changes that had occurred at the two schools since they became coeducational 10 years earlier.