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Analysis Shows Single-Sex Schools Outperformed Co-ed Schools

The debate over school choices is back in the spotlight after new analysis shows single-sex schools have better academic performance than co-ed schools, according to the latest NAPLAN results.

A newly released discussion paper (pdf) from Catholic Schools New South Wales (NSW) reveals that the difference in academic achievement is generally more notable for boys than girls.

The results also vary by subject, with a significant difference in boys’ schools for Numeracy, but little difference for girls in areas like Reading.

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If socio-educational factors are not considered, for year 9 students, the average grade in co-ed schools is 577 compared to 610 in single-sex schools.

In terms of reading, the average National Assessment Program—Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) result for year 5 students in co-ed schools was 509 compared to 552 in single-sex schools.

In terms of numeracy, the average grade for year 5 students in co-ed schools was 494 compared to 539 in single-sex schools, while the average grade for year 9 students in co-ed schools was 587 compared to 622 in single-sex schools.

School students are seen in Brisbane, Australia, on May 2, 2018. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)
School students are seen in Brisbane, Australia, on May 2, 2018. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

The paper examined the average NAPLAN scores across 2019, 2020, and 2022, and is restricted to NAPLAN results in reading and numeracy, and student grade levels Year 5 and Year 9.

The results cover about 8,000 schools and 1.6 million students across three years of assessments.

Findings show the proportion of students educated in single-sex schools has been falling over the last decade. While nationwide enrolments have been rising in girls’ schools and remained steady in boys’ schools.

The paper conceded that the debate on school choice was “unlikely to be settled any time soon” because there was no hard right or wrong decision when it came to educational choices.

Parents need to weigh a range of factors, including the admissions policy regarding gender.

“While the vast majority of parents will choose a co-educational school, there is a substantial share who believe a particular single-sex school is best for their child,” the paper noted.

“As the ‘first educators of children,’ parents are best placed to make this decision, rather than researchers or education bureaucrats.”

“Thus, the debate on single-sex vs. co-ed schools is not a question that is easily settled by literature review or data analysis, but rather is a matter of parental choice and family preferences.”

Research Findings Are Divided

When it comes to exploring the link between academic performance and gender, the research is contested.

The Australian Council for Educational Research said that single-sex schools generally have “no better value-add over time” in numeracy achievement and even a decline in reading achievement over time compared to co-ed schools.

Their research uses NAPLAN results from 2010-2012 of students in Years 3, 5, and 7.

On the other hand, a 2013 study by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research found that students from single-sex schools scored higher in university entrance exams than co-ed schools, after accounting for the students’ socio-economic backgrounds.

Sexual Harassment And Social Interaction

Debates surrounding single-sex and co-ed schools are not limited to academic performance

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