Are boys really better off in single-sex schools?

In recent weeks, a number of private school headteachers have been leading a campaign to create more single-sex schools. Heads at the City of London Boys’ School and Eton have both said that boys are being failed in mixed-sex schools and can’t cope emotionally in them.

Research conducted some years ago by Professor Alan Smithers says that single-sex schools makes very little difference to boys’ results. Indeed significant research undertaken by the Institute of Education suggests that single-sex education is bad for your health if you’re a boy, with men feeling the negative after-effects of their single-sex education for the rest of their lives.

This certainly mirrors my own experience both as a pupil and a teacher. I don’t think I benefitted from attending an all-boys’ school as a teenager and I certainly think that the pupils I’ve taught in single-sex schools have missed out on interacting with the opposite sex in a variety of situations. It’s not just about results, it’s about socialisation as well; segregating the sexes is not going help men and women get along.

It begs the question as to why the private school bosses are suddenly talking about the issue when no significant new research has been produced to change the debate. I spoke about the issue with David Levin, the head of City of London Boys’ School, on Radio London over the weekend. He was evangelical about massively extending single-sex schools in the state sector but had no strong arguments other than teachers can more easily adapt their teaching styles in single-sex classrooms. He promoted the stereotype that boys love competitions and “kinaesthetic” learning — as opposed to girls. Again there is no firm evidence for this. Generalising about a whole gender woefully misses the mark in my view. The interviewer embarrassed him because Levin brought up the fact that he is a South African and that boys are suffering a great deal in South Africa’s mixed sex schools, to which the interviewer retorted with the question: is “gender apartheid” a real solution to boys’ under-achievement?

Are these private school heads trying to soften up the public for a new chain of single-sex free schools?


Published by: @wonderfrancis

Francis Gilbert is a Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching on the PGCE Secondary English programme. He also teaches the Creative Writing module on the MA in Children’s Literature, which is run by Maggie Pitfield and Professor Michael Rosen. Previously, he worked for a quarter of a century in various English state schools teaching English and Media Studies to 11-18 year olds. He has, at times, moonlighted as a journalist, novelist and social commentator. He is the author of ‘Teacher On The Run’, ‘Yob Nation’, ‘Parent Power’, ‘Working The System -- How To Get The Very Best State Education for Your Child’, and a novel about school, ‘The Last Day Of Term’. His first book, ‘I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here’ was a big hit, becoming a bestseller and being serialised on Radio 4. In his role as an English teacher, he has taught many classic texts over the years and has developed a great many resources to assist readers with understanding, appreciating and responding to them both analytically and creatively. This led him to set up his own small publishing company FGI Publishing ( which has published his study guides as well as a number of books by other authors, including Roger Titcombe’s ‘Learning Matters’ and anthology of creative writing 'The Gold Room'. He is the co-founder, with Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, of The Local Schools Network,, a blog that celebrates non-selective state schools, and has his own website, He has appeared numerous times on radio and TV, including Newsnight, the Today Programme, Woman’s Hour and the Russell Brand Show. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing and Education by Goldsmiths.

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