The arguments for and against single-sex and co-educational schools are well established and the discussion over which offers the best outcomes is ongoing. At Cheltenham Ladies’ College, we think that this is exactly as it should be. We passionately believe in the benefits of a single-sex education, and our experience in educating young women is based on a pioneering history stretching back over 160 years. However, we do not stand against co-educational schools; we stand alongside them, offering parents and pupils more choice in their education andself-determination in their futures.

Gender equality

For some, certain elements of a single sex education sit at odds with the idea of gender equality. I believe that teaching young people to treat each other with respect, and to expect respect in return, is not a lesson that relies on having boys sitting in the classroom or walking the hallways. We know that pupils at CLC thrive in a single-sex environment, developing confidence and resilience, unaffected by certain inhibitions and secure in the belief that nothing is beyond their reach or consideration.

Gender equality is about everyone finding ways to challenge stereotypes and
celebrate women’s achievements. Within the community I lead, single-sex education
empowers our pupils to do just that, well beyond their years of formal schooling.
Having worked in both boys only and girls only secondary school environments, as well as in co-education, I have first-hand experience of witnessing boys and girls thrive and develop into balanced and confident young people within single-sex education settings.


Preparation for leadership and life after education

Some argue that single-sex education does not prepare young women for the workplace and the real world, and that no girl will be fully equipped for life’s challenges unless they attend a coeducational school. Yet some secondary schools actively choose a ‘diamond’ structure for the separate tuition of boys and girls even though they have the option of mixed classes throughout. For this the most digitally connected of adolescent generations, the physical absence of the opposite sex does not mean their absence from their mental and emotional development.

From the promising students around me to the ground-breaking lives of our alumnae, it is difficult to see how single-sex education has failed to prepare these women for their notable careers and often ground-breaking accomplishments. They have not hesitated to pursue STEM and other traditionally male-dominated fields of study, and to rise to leadership positions with confidence having spent their formative years seeing all peer leadership roles undertaken by young women.

Each year, over two hundred Sixth Form girls at Cheltenham Ladies’ College elect to study STEM subjects, following in the footsteps of inspirational alumnae, such as the first female President of the Royal College of Surgeons, the Chair of the Science Museum, and the first Female Deputy of the Bank of England, as well as researchers working on Covid-19 vaccines, business owners and entrepreneurs, teachers, writers, artists and designers amongst many more.

A single-sex education can enable both boys and girls to thrive and flourish both within and beyond the classroom. Most importantly however, each child should have an education that is right for them, in a dynamic, diverse, supportive and tolerant community, where they can debate and understand a range of different viewpoints in a way that will truly prepare them for all that is to come. For any parent considering the choices, I would urge an open mind and not to rule out any options before considering what all sectors have to offer in the modern context.