The Irish Times view on single-sex schools: gender segregation has had its day

Most scientific evidence indicates that single-sex education fails to produce academic benefits and inflates gender stereotyping

It has been a fixture of Irish education since its foundation, but there are increasing signs that the tide is going out on single-sex education. Ireland is unusual in that a sizable proportion of schoolchildren – about a quarter at primary level and a third at second level – are segregated by sex in school. However, many all-boys and all-girls schools have changed to become co-educational in recent years in response to demand from parents. In fact, the Department of Education has not sanctioned a new single-sex school in 24 years. It argues that mixed schools provide greater flexibility than single-sex schools in meeting demographic requirements in an area.

There is political momentum behind an end to gender segregation in publicly-funded schools. The Labour Party recently put forward a Bill that would see all State-supported single-sex schools turn co-educational within 15 years. The party's education spokesman Aodhán Ó Ríordáin argues that it is difficult to promote the idea of gender equality while we segregate young people based on gender and claims there are social effects of separating boys and girls at school such as access to subject choices and sports.

Many single-sex schools are happy with their status and have no wish to change their enrolment policies. They argue that single-sex schools allow boys or girls to “be themselves” and that students do better academically in these environments. Some proponents of single-sex schooling argue that boys and girls differ so fundamentally in brain functioning and interests that they cannot be taught effectively in the same classrooms. Scientific research does not support these claims.

Most research from the ESRI and elsewhere indicates that “school effectiveness” rather than gender has a bigger impact on student outcomes. Academics say single-sex schools, on average, are based in more affluent areas and tend to draw students of higher initial ability. When adjusted for social class and prior ability, researchers say there is no significant difference in the academic outcomes of students from single-sex and mixed schools in either the Junior or Leaving Cert. If anything, the preponderance of research shows that single-sex classrooms risk inflating stereotyping and sexist attitudes.


Single-sex schools are at a crossroads as they struggle to reconcile their mission with a growing societal shift on how gender itself is defined. We know that schools work when there is good leadership, a positive school culture, high expectations of students, effective teaching and parental involvement. Our schools should be inclusive and reflect the wider community by offering all young people the same opportunities. Rather than promoting gender segregation, State-funded schools should strive to teach a diverse body of students to work together and respect each other.