What are co-educational schools?

Co-education (co-ed for short) is a system of education in which males and females are educated together. It is also known as mixed-sex education, and mixed-gender education. Learning in a co-ed school has many benefits, which we outline in this week’s blog post.

Brief history of co-education in the UK

When did our schools become co-ed? Boarding schools for boys had been established by the early 1800s, whilst the equivalent for girls did not exist. Girls tended instead to be given a more basic education via home schooling or at other schools. However, girls’ schools, such as Cheltenham Ladies’ College and Roedean School opened in the late 1800s. Over half of the female population were illiterate in 1840 but by 1860 this decreased to approximately 40%.

Many of the UK universities founded in the Victorian era were co-educational, and in the 20th century new red brick universities followed suit. The University of London was the first to award degrees to women in 1878, while it took Oxford until 1920 to accept women as students. However, although women were allowed to study there, they were not awarded an official degree. In 1948 Cambridge allowed women to study as students of the university, but proceeded to prioritise males for places and limit the number of female students.

Luckily, since the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, the landscape of education in the UK has changed significantly. The act banned discrimination on the basis of sex or marital status in the areas of employment, education, training, harassment, housing and the provision of goods and services. Therefore from 1975, equal education opportunities for boys and girls became commonplace in the UK. Universities could not prioritise male students over female students and many single-sex colleges at Oxford and Cambridge became co-educational around this time.

From then, to now

Today things are very different. In 2018 medical schools have attracted a record number of applications according to data published by UCAS (the university and colleges admissions body). More interestingly though, 25,670 women living in the UK applied compared to 19,980 men. In January 2018, Oxford University offered more places to females for the first time in its history (over 1,000 years).

Why co-education is important

Men and women have to cooperate in their daily lives both at home and at work in the UK, therefore students who attend a co-educational school are introduced to the benefits of this type of environment before they enter the workforce. Attending a co-ed school instills the value of gender equality that has been built in the UK. It enables pupils of all genders to learn alongside and from each other, as well as grow used to working with peers of both sexes from day one. A co-ed school reflects the modern workplace, where teams are mixed gender and career opportunities are equal across genders.

Is a co-ed school better?

  1. Diversity – a co-ed environment fosters respect for peers of both sex and exposes pupils to different viewpoints. Often, co-ed schools have better facilities to cater for their more diverse student base. Supporting co-ed education can also help to break down gender stereotypes. For example, girls have been found to do better in sport at co-ed schools than at single sex school. This is likely the result of multiple factors. But it is possible that being part of a more diverse group of peers increases the number of peers actively keen to participate in PE, as well as a higher number of more competitive individuals.
  2. Social skills – children at co-ed schools have been found to demonstrate increased levels of comfort and confidence in social situations and find it easier to make friends of the opposite sex.
  3. Self-esteem – learning alongside both male and female peers introduces children to expressing their views in front of members of the opposite sex. This is conducive of a higher level of comfort when doing so which can result in higher levels of self-esteem. This places co-ed pupils at a conceivably distinct advantage throughout all stages in life.

Education has certainly come a long way from a time when girls were lucky to gain an education taught alongside their brothers or to be granted a place at university without being awarded the official degree. Nowadays boys and girls have much to gain from a co-educational schooling.

Cranmore School is an independent prep school in Surrey for girls and boys aged 2 – 13 years old with an impressive academic record and strong pastoral care. We feel sure that Cranmore is well placed to deliver an outstanding education for both boys and girls. We want children to have a positive school experience in which they develop a love for learning as well as developing strong friendships.