Keen to expound the benefits of single sex education in the UK independent school sector, Tom Dawson, Headmaster at Sunningdale School a family run boys’ preparatory school of 100 pupils based in Berkshire says, “Girls mature much more quickly than boys and I think that between the ages of ten and 16 they do very well at single sex schools.” He adds, “I think boys learn very differently to girls and in a single sex environment you are able to tailor the teaching and learning to the specific needs of the boys.”
Anthony Goddard, Headmaster at Aysgarth School in North Yorkshire the only all-boys prep school in the North of England agrees, adding that lessons and activities provide for the needs and interests of their pupils, namely boys aged between eight and 13. “They learn better, stay uninhibited, and enjoy life more,” he notes.
Dr Tim Eaton, Director of Development & Communications at St Leonards-Mayfair, an independent Catholic day and boarding school for girls located in East Sussex, is another strong advocate of single-gender education. However, he asserts that same-sex education is not necessarily the ideal, and that academic success in either type of provision is wholly dependent on the individual. He explains, “All schools stress to students that their institution’s strength lies in the fact that everyone is treated like an individual. The irony is that they immediately undermine that position by asserting that single-sex education is always superior to co-education, or vice versa, where in fact there are no hard and fast rules about who will flourish in one environment or the other.”
From his experience, Dawson reports that single sex boarding is particularly popular among Spanish clientele. “Spanish families like the traditional boarding set-up and they certainly seem to prefer single sex,” he observes. To date, international students represent 10 per cent of the total student body, something they hope to maintain, although, he says, “demand for places has certainly risen”.
At St Leonards-Mayfair, international students represent 15 per cent of all students on campus and according to Eaton there is a wide selection of nationalities present. In general, Mexican, Spanish, Nigerian and Chinese families have shown a predilection for single sex provision, he says.
According to the Independent Schools Council (ISC) the organisation that represents 1,234 schools in the UK independent education sector there are more independent girls’ schools in the UK than there are boys. In fact, 66 per cent of single sex schools in the independent sector are targeted towards girls. Principal nationalities in the 2011 academic year as charted by the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA), a professional association representing the heads of leading independent girls’ schools in the UK, included Hong Kongese (1,673), Chinese (571) and Spanish (229).
The Royal School in Farnham has taken a slightly different approach to its social and academic provision by adopting the ‘diamond teaching method’ a programme whereby boys and girls are educated together at both pre-prep and prep level. This specific model, explains Kit Bithrey-George, Marketing Development Director at the school, offers students the very best of both worlds. “The principal advantage of the diamond model is that boys and girls will be taught in a way that maximises their learning but enables many co-ed experiences to exist side by side.” Indeed, students are tutored in co-educational classes up to the age of 11 and again in Sixth Form (ages 16-18), separating them during the ages of 11-to-16 where research has proven single sex education is the most advantageous, says Bithrey-George.
Providers employ a variety of methods when marketing their school internationally. “We have a wide ranging network of education agents and we keep in touch with weekly newsletters, the website and more bespoke correspondence when appropriate,” informs Bithrey-George, noting that they also encourage agent visits to the school and like to visit agencies themselves.
Aysgarth School, relates Goddard, is currently a member of the York Boarding Schools Group a collection of schools in and around the city of York which has enabled the members to pool resources and host a number of agent visits. “This has worked well,” he affirms. The school has also welcomed several pupils as a direct result of personal recommendation. “Our reputation speaks for itself and I am always happy when we receive enquiries this way.”