The heads of all-girl schools that draw pupils from Tunbridge Wells have strongly refuted the claim that single-sex education is bad for female students.
The debate has been ignited by the suggestion that female pupils who do not mix and socialise with boys at school are put at a ‘huge disadvantage’ in later life.
In comments aimed at parents of independently educated pupils, Richard Cairns, head of Brighton College, suggests that all-girl establishments are ‘outdated’ and ‘deeply unrealistic’.
He said he is ‘often perplexed’ that any parent should choose to put their daughter in a single-sex school.
Mr Cairns is not entirely alone in his views.
Ian Bauckham, the executive head of Bennett Memorial Diocesan School in Tunbridge Wells told the Times that his ‘personal preference’ is for mixed-sex education.
He said: “It is possible to argue that girls and boys should get used to being and working together as early as possible.”
He recalled ‘with horror’ the way young men and women who had attended single-sex schools behaved when they used mixed-sex university accommodation.
Mr Cairns comments have provoked a strong reaction from the heads of three independent girls’ schools around Tunbridge Wells.
Both Julie Lodrick, head of Kent College Pembury and Antonia Beary, head of Mayfield School, accuse Mr Cairns of using the debate to attack rivalsÂ and create publicity.
In a robust attack on his motives Mrs Lodrick claims Mr Cairns is ‘clearly chasing column inches’ by using ‘outdated’ and ‘provocative’ comments.
Her accusation of publicity seeking is echoed by Mayfield’s Antonia Beary, who said: “We are all accustomed to Mr Cairns’ rather tiresome predilection for causing controversy by aggressively targeting his competitor schools.”
She goes on to say it is ‘curious’ that he should choose to do so ‘quite so lazily’ by rehashing an article he had already published last year.
Samantha Price, head of Benenden, also accused Mr Cairns of stoking ‘controversy’ and added: “One of the benefitsÂ for girls in a single-sex environment is that they have the space to have a go at things without having to worry about how they may be seen by the opposite sex.”