A priority at co-educational schools is to teach both boys and girls that the world is a collaborative environment, where both genders can thrive as long as they are equipped with the right skills and attitudes. At Barrow Hills School, a co-educational independent school in Surrey, for instance, girls and boys in the nursery department happily play and learn together. They all play with the construction toys, they all play in the home corner, and they all dress up in whatever outfit they choose, builder or princess. However, they soon absorb the way the world generalises some things – colours, activities, qualities of character, jobs – as ‘girl’ things or ‘boy’ things. It is the job of the teachers to ensure that those generalisations do not limit or inhibit their pupils, so that they do not think they have to behave or be a certain way because they are a girl or a boy.
Children are individuals and have different learning styles, unrelated to gender. To say that all girls prefer to learn the same way, for example, is an oversimplification. There are different learning styles which suit different children, regardless of gender. There will be a wide variety of learning styles in any school, co-ed or single sex. Good teachers make lessons accessible, engaging and challenging to all their children.
It’s important to respond to each child as a unique individual. Teachers at co-educational schools can do this successfully if they understand what makes each child tick, then they can shape their teaching methods to help the children achieve the best they can.
Girls and boys learn from each other in the classroom. When working on problem-solving tasks, they quickly learn the value of working together and sharing their problem-solving strategies. Girls and boys may take different approaches and they are typically encouraged to appreciate and value each other’s insights. This is something that is actively worked on in co-educational schools where girls and boys are encouraged to sit and work together.
Talents are not confined by gender in good co-educational schools. Children of both genders are proved with opportunities to develop their talents in every area of school life: dance, rugby, music, hockey, art, design technology, netball, maths, English, science, cookery. When a child is recognised as talented, as a leader in an activity, it has an amazing impact on their confidence, which in turn has a positive impact on their achievement across the curriculum.
A co-ed environment is the best antidote to the generalisations that might limit or distort the attitudes and behaviours of girls and boys. Supported by their teachers, students are quick to challenge any stereotyped attitudes and the resulting discussion corrects any misconceptions. They then become the strongest advocates of treating everyone as an individual and not as a member of a generalised group. Co-education is about girls and boys learning together and being friends together. They learn to mix naturally with the opposite sex, to be tolerant and adaptable. They learn to work together, to cooperate and to value the differences between them and the interests and enthusiasms that they share.