“You’re from a girls school? Wow!” he responded when I mentioned my sixth-form education. “So did you all sleep around? Or did you sleep with each other?”
This wouldn’t be the only moment of crassness I would face in my first term at university as a result of going to a girls’ school.
Coming from an all-female environment, I had grown accustomed to an oestrogen-fuelled sphere of grades, gossip and girls’ nights in. My move to a male-dominated flat at university introduced me to new social norms. From dubious “banter” to the exhausting pressure to “pull”, it was a world utterly unfamiliar to me.
From my experience, single-sex schools don’t allow boys to experience an environment where women are equal
Mike Davis, Manchester University student
Melissa Wood, a student at the University of Exeter and graduate of St Albans High School for Girls in Hertfordshire, has had similar experiences.The stereotype that “we are all socially awkward and sex starved” is one that has tainted several of her university encounters.
One student at the University of Cambridge, who wanted to remain anonymous, says she also found herself “stigmatised” as a result of her private, all-girls’ education. She was taunted by other students about her girls’ school background, which she found hurtful initially.
It’s the same for many students from boys’ schools. Mike Davis, a student at the University of Manchester, went to both an all-boys college and a co-educational school. He highlights another potential drawback to single-sex education. “From my experience, single-sex schools don’t allow boys to experience an environment where women are just as clever, competent, and equal,” he says.
“I found that boys there tended to look at women solely as potential girlfriends as opposed to equal peers.”
Richard Cairns, headmaster of the co-educational Brighton College, has condemned the “deeply unrealistic world” of single-sex schools, arguing that such forms of education place their students “at a huge disadvantage” in the long term.
But are single-sex schools really outdated? I’d hesitate to agree.
Patsy Kane, executive headteacher of the Education and Leadership Trust in Manchester, recently outlined the benefits of all-girls’ schools. “Sometimes stereotypical choices are not challenged [in mixed education] and too frequently boys may dominate certain activities. But this can’t happen in a girls-only space,” she said.
Students, too, have also rejected criticism of their single-sex education. They credit their schooling with increasing their personal confidence, leading to later academic success.
Wood attributes her independence and strength on arriving at university to her single-sex school. “I am so pleased I went to an all-girls school because it was drilled into me that women are equally intelligent and so I go into all my studies with that attitude,” she says.
Fiona Linnard, a student at the University of Leeds, was educated at both a co-educational school and an all-girls school. She says: “Surrounded by rowdy, pubescent boys for much of my teens only served to spark and fuel my introversion, whereas the transition to an all-girls sixth form did wonders for my confidence.”
In spite of certain stigmas, the social and academic benefits offered by a single-sex education have allowed many students to thrive at university.
And as for the teasing boys, my school gave me the confidence to deal with them.