Before university, all of my education was from single-sex schools. Both the primary and secondary schools which I attended were all-girls, and in those that did have a boy’s section the two genders were educated separately, mixing only at break-times if ever. In fact, in my first school I can still remember, vividly, the fear that came with having to cross enemy lines to deliver a message to a teacher. In my second school, one that had a communal playground, the girls and boys never mixed apart from the footballs that got ‘accidentally’ kicked as us. I am incredibly aware of how lucky I was to attend the schools I went to, but I regret not considering mixed schools when deciding where to go. My mother had told me from a very early age that I could go to any girl’s school I wanted, but dismissed any mixed schools because she ‘didn’t want me to get distracted’.
In my experience, if anything the deprivation was more of a distraction than the alternative. I was fortunate enough to make friends with boys outside of school, some of who I remain very close with, and the importance I placed upon my education, and perhaps just my personality, meant that the mystical allure of boys did not weigh heavily upon me at all. However, in a teenage environment of girls the absence of boys cultivates an undeniable air of mystery, intrigue and in some cases obsession. I refuse to believe the level to which boys were discussed would be paralleled in a situation where boys were also present. Likewise, the amount of make-up applied, or types of clothes worn were influenced by other females just as much as they would have been by males.
Distraction aside, the absence of the opposite sex in a school deprives students of an education just as important as A-Levels. The fact is, there is no other time in your life that you will find yourself surrounded entirely by your own gender. At university, there is no girls or boys section – it is such a foreign notion to attend an all-girls tutorial or lecture, and yet that is what happened every day at school. It cheats students out of a real world situation, instead placing them inside a bubble and protecting them from a lot of harsh realities which in turn disadvantages them. In a school of girls, where each has just as much right to any opportunity, it is easy to take for granted the fact that this isn’t always true beyond the school gates. This can easily lead to a disregard for feminism, and moreover leave them unprepared for when they leave. Female students are not necessarily well-versed in interacting with males, and are subsequently thrown into the deep-end at work or university when boys remain alien and abstract, or vice versa.
Not only is a single-sex education a false advertisement for the real world, but it also inhibits an understanding of and appreciation for the opposite gender. From being friends with boys I have learned so much about how male brains work, especially in regard to their treatment of girls. Likewise, the absence of girls in a boy’s school, during the fundamental years in which children are growing up and forming opinions, can cause a disconnect between concept and reality, removing the humanity of females which make them a person and not a thing. The segregation of sexes during childhood is so limitlessly capable of fostering a breeding ground for sexism and distorted ideas of the other gender, preventing any form of respect and appreciation from developing. Single-sex education is certainly not the worst thing to ever happen and I am still grateful for the schools I went to, but I will certainly be hoping my children choose a mixed school.