Single-sex or mixed: what’s best for your child?

Trends suggest that when it comes to academic success, the gender mix of a school is largely irrelevant

There is plenty of evidence that co-education is a better social preparation for boys and girls. Photograph: iStock

There is plenty of evidence that co-education is a better social preparation for boys and girls. Photograph: iStock

 

When it comes to school choice, it’s one of the biggest questions facing parents in Ireland. As a western country, we’re somewhat unusual in that about a third of our schools are single-sex, whereas co-education is generally the norm elsewhere.

In some parts of the country – particularly Dublin – parents will, reluctantly, send their child to a single-sex school because there are very few co-educational schools in their area. This is particularly the case in and around the Dún Laoghaire area in south Dublin, where Newpark and Cabinteely Community School are among the few co-educational schools around.

But what does the evidence show? Actually, the trends seem to suggest that, at least when it comes to academic success, the gender mix of a school is largely irrelevant.

This year’s feeder school top 10 is, for the second year running, dominated by boys’ schools, which once again take five of the 10 spots, with two places going to girls’ schools and three to mixed schools.

The school with the highest progression rate in Ireland, Coláiste na Coiribe in Galway, is a mixed Gaelscoil, while numbers two, three and four are, respectively, taken by Presentation College Cork (fee-paying boys’), St Mary’s (fee-paying boys’) and CBC Cork (fee-paying boys’). At numbers eight and nine respectively, the highest ranked girls’ schools are Coláiste Íde in Kerry (a non-fee paying Gaelscoil) and Mount Anville, a fee-paying school in Goatstown, Dublin 14.

Once again, the non-fee paying Gaelscoil Coláiste Eoin – an all-boys situated on the Stillorgan Road in Dublin – features in the top 10 schools in the country. The key here, however, is not that it’s an all-boys’ school; it’s that it’s a Gaelscoil and, furthermore, a Gaelscoil in a relatively affluent area. When it comes to third-level progression, both of these factors seem to be far more influential in determining a school’s success than whether it is single-sex or mixed.

Outside the top 10, there’s a different story around gender, with 17 girls’ schools, nine boys’ schools and 14 mixed schools rounding off the top 50. Overall, the top 100 is made up of of 34 girls’ schools, 29 boys’ schools and 37 mixed schools. This compares with last year’s figures of 30 boys’, 30 girls’ and 40 mixed schools in the top 100.

So, given that there are slightly more girls’ than boys’ schools in Ireland, these figures are what we would expect if the gender mix of a school didn’t skew academic results. It all suggests that the gender mix of a school may not be decisive, at least when it comes to the metric of third-level progression.

This is not surprising. Research on the relative merits of educating boys and girls together or separately is, at best, mixed – although girls generally outperform boys in most Leaving Cert subjects, whether or not they’ve had boys in the classroom beside them. Last year, a review of evidence by Emer Smyth of the Economic and Social Research Institute showed there was very little consensus on whether being educated with or without the opposite sex is best for young people.

There is, on the other hand, plenty of evidence that co-education is a better social preparation for boys and girls. This is hardly surprising – boys and girls who are educated separately will meet at third-level and in the workplace, and those who have some experience of the opposite gender will inevitably be better able to deal with each other.

So, on balance, while being educated together or separately won’t impact on a child’s college choices, it will impact on their life. Together may be better, after all.

NUMBERS

Top 100:

Girls’ schools: 34

Boys’ schools: 29

Mixed schools: 37