Educating Girls

13 August 2021

The purpose and place of a girls' school education

The purpose and place of a girls' school education

'Single-sex settings provide girls with the level playing field they deserve.'

A century and a half ago, girls’ schools were a response to the lack of educational provision for girls. In today’s world, successful girls’ schools, such as Ruyton, offer a wide range of co-curricular activities and academic opportunities free of gender stereotyping. We meet the learning and wellbeing needs and preferences of girls with our holistic approach. In a world where equality and inclusion are sadly lacking, we know that as a girls’ school we empower young women. We provide the dual emphasis on excellence in education and on the empowerment of girls, placing value on each student's potential as an individual; her sense of self and wellbeing, skill development and academic achievement, leadership learning, co-curricular engagement and the formation of character and strong values.
A recent study by AQR International in the UK found that students in girls' schools scored higher for ‘emotional control and confidence'  than those in co-educational schools, indicating they are more 'mentally robust'. Better equipped to deal with challenge, pressure and stress this certainly could provide 'advantage in dealing with the impact of the pandemic.' Donna Stevens, Chief Executive of the Girls’ Schools Association, noted, 'This is a fascinating insight to the environmental impact of a single-sex school on girls’ confidence and emotional resilience and may well explain why girls in girls’ schools typically tend to do better academically.’

Australia dropped to 44th on the Global Gender Gap Index in 2020; a decline of 29 places in just 14 years. The purpose and place of girls’ schools now and into the future in this country cannot be underestimated for our young women. Australian women and girls still need to fight for a safe and fair community, as we have seen so clearly in the past 12 months. We have seen brave women raise their voices, take action and make a difference.

There is evidence that girls achieve more when they are given their own dedicated place to develop. In single-sex schools, girls:

  • are less likely to conform to a priori gender stereotypes
  • are less constrained in their choice of subjects
  • show a greater propensity to take risks and innovate
  • perform better in examinations
  • have more opportunities to show leadership and
  • are more successful in the job market.

Importantly, single-sex settings provide girls with the level playing field they deserve.
One argument often made by co-educational settings is that if the world is free of gender bias, then schools should reflect this. This argument ignores the persistence of structural obstacles and stereotypes that females face in today’s world. As a school, we do not seek to replicate this world but rather to prepare our students to navigate and subvert such obstacles. In co-educational settings it is boys who often set the tone and the culture, monopolising discussion, taking more dominant roles in both group work and practical exercises. Girls may adopt roles that reflect others’ views of them and narrow their choices, both academic and co-curricular. In a co-educational setting, girls may also be assumed to be ‘less problematic’, with the strong correlation between high motivation and high anxiety in girls then being overlooked. In girls-only environments it is girls’ needs and preferences that come to the fore.
At Ruyton our teachers focus on working with and also challenging our girls who often seek security in structures and schedules. We are able to challenge risk aversion and encourage adventurousness, within an affirming environment. We give girls space to develop a strong sense of themselves and their personal value, nurturing the confidence to make their own choices, free of any sense of a predetermined script.
Our learning environment as a girls’ school, including both curricular and co-curricular opportunities, is specifically designed and dedicated to the development of confident, courageous, creative and resilient young women. Our challenge is to look outwards at what is happening in the world, and inwardly; to know our students, to understand their needs. To provide them with life and leadership skills and challenging experiences that prepare them for a rapidly changing world; opportunities to take risks, to know their values and live by them.
As part of our strategic planning process we are engaging in conversations with our students; gaining important insights into their perspective and experiences of Ruyton and how they are thinking about the future. These conversations commenced last term with current students and have continued this term with students who finished their schooling at Ruyton three to five years ago. These most valuable insights will be instrumental in helping us to shape our future as a community that believes deeply in girls.

Linda Douglas

Ruyton Girls' School
August 2021