IS THERE A NEED FOR SINGLE SEX EDUCATION? A CRITICAL REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
The terrain of gender inequalities in education has seen much change in recent decades. This literature review examines the empirical research and theoretical perspectives on gender inequalities in educational performance and attainment from late childhood to young adulthood. The primary purpose of this paper is to critically evaluate this limited literature database and determine whether the argument that the sexes need to be educated separately is valid.
The key methodology is a comprehensive literature review of existing studies using a predetermined set of criteria for inclusion or exclusion of retrieved papers. The data analysed was secondary qualitative and quantitative data. The basis of the selection criteria for the literature were : published within the last fifteen years, published in peer reviewed journals; sources were located and explored via the University journal database using ‘single sex education’, ‘co-educational’, ‘boy crisis’ and ‘achievement gap’ as key search terms or phrases. From the initial search, 38 articles were deemed to be relevant to this literature review. Exceptions were made for some of the literature which dated back more than fifteen years due to the consistent acknowledgement in many of the recent chosen journal articles.
In comparing the two settings (single sex and coeducational), the weight of evidence is that research on single sex and co-education has failed to demonstrate unequivocally that there is a valid and genuine need to educate the sexes separately. A number of studies have reported small but inconsistent differences between the outcomes of single sex and co-education that are difficult to replicate. This is mainly due to the number of extraneous variables which affect the students’ overall perception of their schooling experience. The most likely explanation is that there can be advantages to both separating or combining the sexes in terms of less distraction and seeking approval from the opposite sex, but these advantages are minor compared with other factors. The data indicates that there is a flaw in the underlying premise that either single sex or coeducational schools must be ‘best’. What the research does support is that the outcomes are specific to individuals and an experience of single sex education is better for some students while a coeducational school may be better for others.
One factor which has been made apparent through the research is that schools are complex institutional settings. The question of whether there is a need to educate the sexes separately is not a simple or straightforward question, it is extremely complex. There are many convincing arguments which are for or against the idea of educating the sexes separately, such as; the boy crisis, biological difference and achievement gap. The research on all three of these issues has presented conflicting evidence. The present research highlights the need for more attention to be directed to the particular effects of pedagogy and the normalising assumptions about gender that inform the implementation of curriculum in both the single sex and the coeducational classes.