Single-sex schools ‘a revelation’ for girls

 

GIRLS schools could be the key to closing the gender pay gap, with a Queensland study finding female students graduated more confident and more likely to hold leadership roles if they attend single-sex schools.

University of Queensland Business School gender equality expert Terrance Fitzsimmons' research into how subtle differences in raising boys and girls could set up a lifetime of inequality at work included surveying more than 10,000 boys and girls at single-sex schools across Queensland.

With the gender pay gap at 14 per cent and the number of female CEOs at the top ASX-listed companies falling, Dr Fitzsimmons said ensuring girls graduate school with as much self-confidence as boys could be a key component to tackling inequality.

"Studies in this area always show that overall, men are more confident than women and that starts changing in late childhood - up until about the age of eight, it's the same," he said.

But the research found when attending single-sex schools, boys and girls had equal levels of self-esteem and self-efficacy in their senior years.

Brisbane Girls Grammar School students Lily Smith 13 and Olivia Choo 12. Photo: Peter Wallis
Brisbane Girls Grammar School students Lily Smith 13 and Olivia Choo 12. Photo: Peter Wallis

Dr Fitzsimmons said this was a crucial finding, given the development of self-confidence and the non-selection of STEM subjects by female high school students had both been found to be major contributors to workplace gender inequality.

"In single-sex schools girls are surrounded by female role models in leadership positions, such as principals," he said.

"Any stereotypes that boys are better at maths or science, which often can't help but play on some teachers minds and may lead girls to dropping subjects, simply don't exist."

Girls were also more likely to continue to play team sports into their senior years at single-sex schools, another major contributor to self-confidence.

Dr Fitzsimmons said he didn't initiate the research as a single-sex school advocate, but believed it could be one strategy to help close the gender pay gap.

"There's definitely something in this - whether we go the whole way there's no doubt there's an effect and we should be looking at these things strategically," he said, adding that even single-sex classrooms could potentially prove beneficial.

Brisbane Girls Grammar School principal Jacinda Euler said "confidence isn't, nor should it be, gendered".

"However, as a school that educates girls we focus specifically on nurturing girls' self-confidence and independence in a supportive environment," she said.

"We promote their engagement in team sports, encourage them to take risks and hone their leadership and mentoring skills.

"All of this contributes to a well-founded confidence that remains with the girls as they leave school and enter university and the workplace."

Ms Euler said in a single-sex environment, girls also felt less pressure to pursue interests or choose subjects conventionally defined by gender.

"They are more likely to be blind to traditional stereotypes and develop their genuine interests and abilities," she said.

Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory are the only parts of the country that offer no state single-sex education options.

While single-sex classrooms have been trialled in Queensland state schools in the past, a spokesperson for the Department of Education said there were no plans for any public single-sex schools.

The Alliance of Girls' Schools Australasia executive officer Loren Bridge said there was a strong demand for single-sex schools, but for a lot of parents school fees meant they were simply unaffordable.

"In Queensland, there are no state girls schools, so for parents to get that style of education they have to go to an independent or Catholic school to, and with that comes a fee" she said.

Ms Bridge said one of the advantages of single sex schools with regards to the gender pay gap was schools specifically taught female students about issues such as gender and sexual discrimination.


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