A Comparative Analysis of Single-Sex Education in the United Kingdom and Australia

A Comparative Analysis of Single-Sex Education in the United Kingdom and Australia

Ramonia R. Rochester (Florida Atlantic University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6046-5.ch088
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Single-gender education or Single-Sex Education (SSE) has reemerged in the educational reform discussion as experts seek to establish clearer pathways to literacy in the 21st century. SSE discusses how students learn best in a convergent global model of emergent literacy practices. Views of single-gender education in the UK and Australia differ with respect to motivational underpinnings and perceptions of the efficacy of SSE. Central to the SSE debate in both countries is the widening achievement gap between boys and girls, particularly in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Both countries are moving toward a parallel model of SSE, offering gender-differentiated instruction in single-gender classrooms within co-educational schools. The chapter compares SSE in the two countries with respect to gender perspectives in curriculum and pedagogy; cultural, religious, and socio-economic motivations in school orientations; and the perceived returns on education for students schooled in a single-sex environment.
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Single gender education or single-sex education (SSE) has reemerged in the debate vis-à-vis how best students learn supported by local frameworks of education culture in a larger global model of pedagogical practices and contexts. The question remains whether there is, in fact, a convergent global model of SSE; or whether school systems are diverging from original European sources of practice. As in the case of the United States, single-sex education was introduced to many countries through the colonial process, or through migration of peoples from Europe. Single-sex education began in the United Kingdom (UK) in mid 1400s with the introduction of grammar schools for boys. It was not until the mid-1800s however, that public schooling became available to women. Some twenty years later in 1870, the creation of national elementary schools resulted in many single-sex schools becoming co-educational due to financial reasons. This marked the introduction of the model of gender-separated classes within the co-educational setting, or parallel education, a form of SSE commonly practiced in Australia (Anderson- Levitt, 2003).

In a bid to develop a more inclusive framework of educational practices that responds to the needs of students within minority, low socio-economic and generally marginalized student groups, SSE has reemerged in the education debate as a possible answer to narrowing the achievement gap between rich and poor, and between male and female students, particularly in the sciences, information technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines (National Association for Single-Sex Public Education (NASSPE), 2011). The notion of ‘separate but equal’, which is considered inherently discriminatory, is perhaps what calls into question the efficacy of any separation by gender, race, or class as a means of providing an equitable learning environment, and therefore calls into question the efficacy of SSE. Globally, the proponents of single-sex education tout its ability to narrow achievement gaps, stem curriculum and subject choice polarization, and reduce subsequent academic and career gender stereotypes; as well as avail students and parents with an opportunity to choose their preferred learning environment (Hutchison, 2012; Sax, 2002; Jackson & Smith, 2000; Sullivan, Joshi, & Leonard, 2010). Opponents on the other hand present concerns regarding the lack of socialization between the sexes in preparation for “real” life, the shaky empirical basis of the efficacy of SSE practice, and the possible marginalization of genders inherent in segregation practices; (Tsolidis & Dobson, 2006; Asthana, 2006; Jackson & Ivinson, 2013) with particular concerns regarding the engendering of homophobic and other intolerant, prejudicial viewpoints claimed to be fostered in the SSE environment (Younger & Warrington, 2006; Carter, 2010).

Anderson-Levitt (2003) purports that the “model of mass education” emanated from a mutual foundation and that schools move toward similitude overtime. This notion suggests that schooling and global culture are perhaps becoming a more homogenous reality. This comparative analysis will examine the approaches to SSE in United Kingdom and Australia in the primary through secondary grades, and will explore how the phenomenon has been shaped by the following in the individual local contexts: a) gender perspectives in curriculum and pedagogy, b) cultural, religious and socio-economic motivations in school orientations, and c) perceived returns on education for students schooled in a single-sex environment.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Inclusive Curriculum: Curriculum strategies and approaches which target the learning needs of gender groups within non-traditional subject areas are tailored to more effectively include the marginalized learner. Girl-friendly pedagogy in STEM for example, would focus on communication and cooperation, regarded as beneficial to this group. Content would utilize more illustrative materials in ways that appeal to girls such as the use of cosmetics in chemistry, or the use of dialogue and imagination, or “dress up” in learning activities ( Yates, 2011 ; as cited in Tsolidis & Dobson, 2006 ; Younger & Warrington, 2006 ).

Gendered Brain: Women and men, by virtue of brain make up, require different strategies and experiences to learn the same material (Sax, 2010 AU41: The in-text citation "Sax, 2010" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

Gender Differentiated Learning: Boys and girls learn differently and therefore instruction should be differentiated to meet the learning needs of each gender ( Younger & Warrington, 2006 , Sax, 2010 AU39: The in-text citation "Sax, 2010" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

Essentialist Theory of Gender Learning Styles: Biological differences exist as naturally occurring distinctions between genders and how males and females learn. These differences are genetically predetermined and exhibit themselves at a very early age. Essentialist theory explains gender differences in autonomic nervous system, brain dominance, and hearing functions ( Younger & Warrington, 2006 ; Tsolidis & Dobson, 2006 ).

Academic Polarization: Traditional stereotypes result in the classification of academic subjects as gender inappropriate or male and female-dominated, and conversely less enjoyable or more complex, by gender groupings; where female-dominated subjects such as the arts, humanities and modern languages are considered “feminine” and less enjoyable and therefore less often selected or excelled at by males; and male-dominated subjects such as the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are less often selected and perceived as more complex by girls (Sullivan et al., 2012 AU38: The in-text citation "Sullivan et al., 2012" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ; Jackson & Smith, 2000 ).

Liberal Reformist Perspective: The liberal reformist perspective is undergirded by the notion that STEM subjects and careers are less accessible to girls and supports the view that availing girls with opportunities to develop spatial and mathematical abilities is best achieved in single-sex education settings, free from competition with boys ( Carpenter & Hayden, 1987 ).

Gender-Based Pedagogy: Gender -based pedagogy exploits instructional methodologies and approaches that appeal differently to the genders in ensuring learning takes place. For example, English instruction is aligned to the needs of boys included more “factual work, factual writing, ‘boy friendly’ content and cloze procedure tasks” (Speilhofer et al, 2002 AU40: The in-text citation "Speilhofer et al, 2002" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. , p. 14; Law & Kim, 2011 ).

Gendered Patterns of Achievement: Gendered patterns of achievement become distinct between SSE girls for STEM subjects and for SSE boys in language, or for boys and girls performance in gender-classified non-traditional subjects overtime ( Sullivan et al, 2010 ; Younger & Warrington, 2006 ).

Single-Gender Education: Also referred to as single-sex education, this is the practice of educating boys and girls in separate physical settings, where the genders do not interact for instruction. SSE is either offered in separate classes or on a separate schools basis ( Younger & Warrington, 2006 ).

Parallel Education: This is the practice of holding gender-separated or single gender classes within a co-educational setting. Students may separate for some classes or subjects or may separate for academics, then converge for social or extra-curricular activities (Anderson- Levitt, 2003; Jackson & Smith, 2000 ).

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