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Anglican Schools Commission

Going Co-ed?

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The Revd Peter Laurence OAM, CEO, Anglican Schools Commission WA

There has been much discussion in the media – in WA and well beyond - about ‘going co-ed’. It stems from a decision by a 160-year-old independent boys school in Sydney to ‘go co-ed’.

Newington College (not an Anglican school) will begin accepting female enrolments from 2026, to become fully co-ed by 2033. Pictures of parents and old boys holding placards outside the school in protest have adorned both mainstream and social media.
Two points are worthy of reflection.

Firstly, it is hardly new or radical for a school to ‘go co-ed’. Here in WA, Guildford Grammar School introduced girls into the secondary school from 2018 and was fully co-educational by 2019. Whilst Guildford already offered co-education in its primary years, the move to have a balance of boys and girls through to Year 12 has brought a rich new dimension to this almost 130-year-old great Anglican school in Perth.

Regensburg Cathedral School in Bavaria was founded in 975AD. For over one thousand years, it admitted only male students. In 2022, Regensburg had its first intake of girls.

My alma mater in Sydney, St Andrew’s Cathedral School, whilst ‘boys only’ when I attended in the 1970s, is now fully ‘co-ed’ and doing very well. It enrolled girls into Years 10 to 12 in 1999 and went fully co-ed (Kindergarten to Year 12) in 2008. There are numerous similar examples around the country.

That said, there is no question that our long-established single sex schools – girls or boys – are truly outstanding places of learning. For what its worth, I believe that in 50 years time most single sex schools of today will be operating and thriving. Whilst history suggests several more schools across Australia will ‘go co-ed’ by introducing girls/boys (or combining with another school), there is no sign that any of WA’s great single sex schools will change in the foreseeable future. Nor should they. They are truly outstanding schools.

It is fair to say that pretty well every school established post World War 2 has been co-educational; this trend will continue. It will continue alongside the thriving of our existing single sex and co-educational schools in Australia.

Which brings me to the second point. This same recent media coverage of an all-boys school ‘going co-ed’ has re-sparked the discussion about ‘which is better, single sex or co-educational’? Well, it comes down to which research paper you read, frankly! There’s research that says girls of a certain age, or boys of a certain age, do better academically or socially in single sex education. Other research says the opposite.

So, is it ‘horses for courses’?

The answer is…. every child is different. Each child learns in different ways and at different times in their journey through childhood and adolescence.

Research conducted by Emeritus Laureate Professor John Hattie from Melbourne University’s Graduate School of Education pulled data from 130,000 studies involving more than 400 million students worldwide. The culmination of this extensive research suggests the main influencing factors on student achievement are teacher mind-frames and whether the students are given a clear purpose and can understand their learning journey.

Professor Hattie said schools must look at ‘changing the culture of education so that teachers are excited about teaching, and students are excited and engaged in learning … Every child can learn, can grow, and can be taught to love learning. The most important thing a teacher can do is to have high expectations for all students and to see differences as opportunities to learn in different ways, and to teach students to welcome the challenge to aim high’1. A child has the best chance of learning if they are happy, fulfilled and challenged with purpose by a great teacher and positive schooling environment.

Choosing a school that best suits a child is still possibly the most important decision any parent will every make. It doesn’t come down to single sex verses co-education. How blessed we are in the world of Anglican schools that we have both, and how blessed that we live in a country where we can make choices.

1. Professor Hattie, ‘Visible Learning: The Sequel - A Synthesis of Over 2,100 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement’, March 2023^
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