‘Shocking: We don’t giggle every time a boy walks past or talks to us’

Islay O'Hara

Earlier pages of this week’s newspaper carry stories about a debate over the value, or not, of all-girl schools. The articles reflect the thoughts and views of various heads. Time now to hear from one of those most impacted – a former pupil at a single-sex establishment. Samantha Watkins (as she is now known) speaks from personal experience.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about girls being at a disadvantage because of their single-sex education.

I was lucky enough to go to an all girls school for five years before I went on to university and I can safely say it was the best decision my parents and I could’ve made for me.

Personally, yes I do think that being at a single-sex school had an affect on me. When I first went to university I did find it harder to connect or bond with the boys than I did with the girls and I was often quite shy in front of them but eventually I got used to being around them. Equally I know that some of my friends from school have found it much easier to bond with the boys than the girls and in their second and third years they lived with more boys than girls. There’s one thing that we do all agree on is that if we had gone to a co-ed secondary school we probably wouldn’t have worked so hard to get to university.

One of the really important values that we learnt whilst at our school was to work hard to get places in life. We worked hard for our A levels so we could get into our first choice universities, and we worked hard at university to get the jobs we wanted. At no point along the way have we ever considered that we’d be at a disadvantage in the workplace because we couldn’t interact with our male peers. This is the controversial view of the head teacher at Brighton College, Richard Cairns, saying that the environment of a single-sex school was a “deeply unrealistic world”.

Any girl from a single-sex school can repeat the various rumours that are thrown around about them: ‘they’re definitely lesbians’, ‘they must be so socially awkward around boys’ or my personal favourite ‘they must fancy all the male teachers then’.

Yes, there are some girls that are socially awkward around boys – but they may be equally socially awkward around girls. That kind of anxiety and nervousness comes from a lack of confidence and self-esteem. I don’t doubt that sometimes, the environment that an all-girls school provides may only encourage these feelings and so it can be difficult to flourish in this situation and so, of course, bullying can be a problem – but it’s a problem in any school is it not?

The benefits of the single-sex schools always seem to be conveniently forgotten. Being educated without the opposite sex present allows for better concentration and much less distraction from studies. The grades at mine and most other single-sex schools speak for themselves.

Cairns claims that because we have been single-sex educated, we have no idea how to interact with the opposite sex in a working environment. With fathers, brothers, teachers and friends surrounding us, as well as the socials with the local boys school, I find it hard to believe that the girls from my school cannot hold a conversation with a male.

There are some things where he’s not wrong – yes we have come out of school with good grades (quite probably better than his school has turned out) and we’ve gone to university but, shocking I know, we didn’t and don’t giggle every time a boy walks past or talks to us. Not to mention that having worked in a real working environment, I don’t find it any easier to talk to my female colleagues than male, and I certainly don’t think that I, or any other of my single-sex school comrades, ‘cannot meaning-fully converse and communicate with male colleagues’.

So what about boys? Why is it that girls will be at a disadvantage?

This opinion is just so old-fashioned- that because of our gender we will not have the same opportunities as boys in the same situation?

I wouldn’t change the education I have had and I sincerely hope that any future employers of mine won’t look at my school background and think ‘an all-girls school? No she won’t be able to interact with her male colleagues’. Hopefully, instead, they will look at the grades I achieved and my experience of real life.

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