Why an all-girls education should be more accessible.
For the first ten years of my schooling, I attended a co-educational college in a South Australian country town.
It was a great place to grow up. It was spacious and quiet and the kids in the neighbourhood were like siblings to us. I went from Reception to Year Nine having known the majority of my classmates since the tender age of five. Together, we’d experienced first crushes, sports days, terribly awkward dancing lessons, detentions for talking in chapel, puberty, parties, and high school.
My Mum taught at the school I attended, so teachers were our family friends, forever present at our New Year’s Eve parties and birthday barbeques. After school, we’d wait around with the other kids whose parents were teachers. It was a storyboard childhood, filled with vibrant characters and connection and stability. It was comfortable and safe and oh so very familiar.
When I was fifteen, Dad told us he’d secured a job in Adelaide. We packed up, left the house we’d lived in for the best part of ten years, and moved.
I was enrolled in a private all-girls school close to our new house. I’d scoffed at the idea of a single-sex education, immaturely sure it was going to be utterly dull in comparison.
The first thing I realised about my new school was that it was no longer “uncool” to have a dress that fell past your knees, a vast change to my country college, and the intense competition for whose was the shortest.
The second thing I realised was the animation of the environment. There were girls everywhere, singing and screaming, unapologetically effervescent in attitude.
Whilst I do think there’s a lot to be said about spending your early years in a co-educational setting, there was something so freeing about the female energy. The fact that few girls bothered with makeup and hair was tied up and left whichever way it fell. The closeness and connectedness I felt there had a certain uniqueness, and the relationships I formed still stand strongly today.
That school taught me self-confidence. It taught me that being loud and proud and bold is totally beautiful. I was surrounded by female strength and women with ambition, unafraid of power and prepared to tackle life outside of the school grounds. Perhaps most importantly, I only ever felt empowered by my gender.
Indeed, research collated by the Alliance of Girls Schools Australia demonstrates that generally girls do benefit from single-sex environments. Specifically, a 2016 survey by the South Australian Associate of State School Organisations found participants reporting on a multitude of advantages of all-girl schooling, including academic performance, STEM participation, sport participation, reduced stereotyping, confidence, teaching methods for girls, improved body image, better support, safety, and less bullying.
It must be mentioned that I am writing this from the perspective of a straight, cisgender female, and thereby can’t speak from personal experience about the struggles that may arise for others in an all-female educational institution. I also need to acknowledge the privilege of my education. I am lucky my school was so invested in its students, that it made space for art and performance, as well as maths and science and sport, and my parents were able to make the choice to send me there. I am also well aware that a private, single-sex education is not feasible for a lot of families.
In that same 2016 survey by the SAASSO, it was found that 62% of parents and 83% of teachers believe there should be more all-girls public schools, emphasising the benefits of an all-girl schooling. In fact, public, single-sex schools now only exist in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania.
Like many, I am of the belief that schooling decisions should be made with the child front of mind, but this can only be done if accessible and financially viable options are available. With only two all-girls public schools in South Australia, and these schools dependent on residential location, on occasion this choice is removed altogether.
If the benefits of all-girl schooling are so plentiful, should the education system not seek to make this stream more accessible? This is not to say that empowerment and a rounded education cannot be found at a co-educational school, merely that the choice for an all-girl schooling should ideally be more readily available and not necessarily reliant on financial privilege.
If the aforementioned research is considered, it would seem many South Australian parents and educators agree.