The case for single sex schools

My son once attended an international school that had a multiage approach in the classroom and of course, attended by both boys and girls. One year his class had an overwhelming number of boys, with only two girls. The classroom teacher joked to me, “Oh the poor girls … I don’t think they are going to get any learning done this year” (probably bit his tongue afterwards). Anyway, those words stuck with me.

And now that I am considering an all girls’ school for my daughter … for middle schooling onwards at least, I did a bit of digging around on the issue and this is what I found:

Research, by the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA) – an umbrella group representing 200 private girls’ schools – shows that girls in single-sex schools are less likely to have their parents or teachers discourage them from studying what are still inaccurately perceived to be “boys’ subjects”.

The study covered more than 5,000 pupils attending schools which belong to the GSA, the report said.

It indicated that promising female students were not taking up science and maths in a co-educational environment because they were intimidated by boys who were often rowdy and liked to show off.

It also focused on whether girls and boys learn differently particularly at puberty, when both sexes experience very differetn hormonal and developmental changes.
The GSA’s basic argument was that girls will always thrive academically in single-sex classes, the report said.

Many of the GSA school leavers go on to choose a university course in engineering, maths or science, according to the report. This is in stark contrast to the national trend of plummeting numbers taking these subjects among both sexes.

The study was noted in a report by the Guardian national daily newspaper article entitled ”
‘Single-sex schools good for girls’ that noted that private girls’ schools achieve more in a learning environment where there are no boys and are turning out significantly more female mathematicians, engineers, scientists and linguists than schools catering for both sexes.

There have been other studies done on the benefits of all boys’ schools, and the results have been somewhat the same. Kaiyo Academy is a recently established (2006) Japanese elite boarding school exclusively for boys, ostensibly with the high goal of building leaders for the nation.

To read more on the topic, Boarding School Directory Blog offers many helpful features
on boarding schools such as:

Why some parents choose girl boarding school?

About Copper Canyon Academy Boarding School (an exclusive girls’ bs)
Girl boarding schools in the US  This page has a listing of bs for girls in the US as well as tips on choosing bs.

Why a boarding school might be right for your daughter is another page offering helpful tips, plus the next linked article…


— AK

6 thoughts on “The case for single sex schools”

  1. In a recent blog post (, I asked the question why supplementary education (i.e. juku) does not cater to some Japanese parents’ expressed preference for single-sex education.
    Part of the answer to this puzzle – I think – is that the kind of reasoning you present in your post (i.e. choosing single-sex education primarily for pedagogical reasons) is not widespread in Japan, but that single-sex schools are often selected for social reasons (prestige, alumni ties, etc.).

    1. I’m sorry I missed your earlier post. This is my take: Jukus are run as small, lean, profit-oriented commercial entreprises and in localized areas where competition from other jukus is likely and the number of students they can draw upon is limited … and due to high rentals and precious space resources, (single-sex edu would require the doubling of classrooms and teachers) it simply would not be cost-effective for them to split their classrooms into single-sex rooms. Another reason is that the rationale for single-sex environment is a social/psychological one – jukus lack the socialization element that public or private schools have – the kids who come know that they come with the single-minded purpose of academic prep and competitive “warfare”, and so kids are for the most part streamed or moved along according to their paces/abilities/performance. Socialization considerations almost doesn’t figure at all…except in the K-3 or 4 grades which is when parents tend to place kids with Gakken or Benesse Challenge programmes which are more kid-friendly. // Parents who do care about single-sex education (and there are many) almost invariably seek out private school education for their kids, and I personally know many parents who do choose single-sex schools for the pedagogical benefits. But single-sex are all private schools because public policy that underlines public school education is based on egalitarian and non-discriminatory grounds. And this obviously disqualifies a great many parents who do want single-sex education for their children due to financial reasons.

  2. I have read your blog, thanks. The news trend in recent years on juku stability and profitability suggests that it is getting more competitive and that many juku branches face closure, hence the huge number of mergers seen in recent years. Yes, in a few cosmopolitan centres, juku attendance remain strong, but all round the figures suggest with falling numbers of student population, any strategic moves must be cost-effective for the entire chain. I am still convinced that juku operators will not divide the classes on the basis of sex. That is not to say if parents overwhelmingly demand for it and UNLESS some juku’s president someday decides single-sex edu will be a great competitive marketing strategy(this is not unconceivable). Whatever the large juku operators that you are talking about may say, the nature of the juku market is niche-marketing. What each juku chain sells is the reputation of its methodology or material/curriculum package that has a proven track record or that has worked with parents themselves. Secondly, many of the jukus cater largely to parents who cannot afford the private schooling route, and who therefore have already in fact decided to forego the “luxury” factor of the better schooling environment/atmosphere(both physical and social), to make-do with the barebones goal of academic achievement. Thus the end-goal for the clientele is already differentiated. Re your other comments: earlier in my survey of private schools and in putting together the pte school directory, I came across news articles in which schools like Kaiyo Academy and other new ones, suggestions that the singe-sex environment was a key consideration. Egalitarianism as a cornerstone of MEXT education policy is well-known and mentioned in much literature on education in Japan or on the history of education in Japan, I’m sure you will easily be able to come across something by googling or some basic library research.

    1. I have not said that there is no viability nor potential for single sex education marketing. What I have suggested is that there is not yet sufficient demand from parents for single sex education for the large chain juku operators to make the move balancing cost considerations. There are more desirable market strategies at the moment – these take advantage of the public consciousness on educational trends – and the trends that the parents know about and are seeking after are the ones they are seeking – content including more critical thinking, inclusion of IQ Mensa tests, science-orientation; inclusion of maverick methods e.g. Indian math, etc.. these are “sexier” and easier to sell.
      “Many juku thus specialize (sometimes even exclusively) on specific grades. If the argument about the lack of a viable niche strategy were true, this niche shouldn’t exist” – I don’t see how this bears on the argument at all. Juku specialize on grades for historical reasons, and the spectrum coverage of grades and the strength of the juku’s original curriculum materials emanate from the founder or founding teachers’ history. E.g. Kumon will not appeal to parents beyond early to mid elementary because the materials started out as materials by a parent who created those materials page by page from kindergarten through elementary school. Some jukus like EIKOH focus on middle schooling because their teacher expertise is specialists who are aces on all the tests that matter. The history of jukus is based on the niches that their founding teachers were famous for. That is why in order for the chain jukus to make moves to capture other markets, they have had to merge or buy out materials/curriculum from other specialists. Plenty of news showing this in recent years.
      I should think your statement “I would doubt the “many” characterization.” applies more to your own characterization that “Many students at private schools attend juku as well and there are plenty of relatively low-cost juku options”. Most news articles and surveys in recent years highlight growing income gap inequality and parents struggling to afford private school or cramschooling. Curioser and curiouser … no statistics?
      “90.8% of the parents send their children to a cram school, and those whose children attended (jr high-high school) cram school four or more days a week accounted for 65.2%. – survey of parents in Tokyo wards | MEXT figures: 39 percent of public elementary school students, 75 percent of public middle school students, and 38 percent of public high school students attend juku.; Private school attendance was 79% for kindergartens, 0.9% for elementary schools, 4% for junior high schools, 29% for high schools….
      Comparing pte school-to-cramschool attendance ratios 4%:75%(jr. high) and 29%:38% (high school). This shows 1) There are many more who can afford the juku option, but very few who can afford the pte school option. Moreover, 29% pte high school attendance doesn’t even mean parents are wealthy enough to afford pte school but simply there is no choice and the majority of students have to attend a private high school. This is because compulsory schooling stops at middle school, so there are very very few public high schools established to begin with — the majority of students have to attend private high schools by default when their middle school results do not qualify them for public high schools. This also means the majority of private high schools are not academically competitive. My point is neither 29% attendance of private high school considering this situation that the majority of high school students attend pte high schools by default, could possibly be an indication of high numbers of parents who are able to afford costly quality education. 2) The cramschool attendance figure is also skewered at the jr high school level because many students are attending juku only because of the hopes of enhances of getting into academically high-ranking public schools, academic or elite private schools, or into any public school at all…in that order. Failing to secure places in any of those, by default, the student ends up in any run-of-the-mill take-all private school.
      The figures show you cramschool attendance is high at jr high school and low at high school; the inverse is true for pte school attendance low at pte school and high at high school. But we know that attendance at elite or escalator pte schools begins in elementary school (or earlier) and in a few cases in elite jr high schools, so the true figure showing you parents who can really afford quality costly pte education is 0.9% with a few more entrants at the later jr high school stage bringing the figure to 4%. Arguably, those who can afford this sort of elite pte education would be able to also afford cramschool education, but certainly, the figures do not show the reverse to be true – that cramschool going students’ parents can also afford pte school education. The top political hot-potato in Japan for voters has been the affordability of education (until recently edged out by Japan’s deficit problem) and still is.
      I mentioned that strategy of jukus is linked to public perception of method/curriculum and rankings of juku, the key consideration is not a social environment one, that is not to say that some parents will want the single-sex environment. However, there is another factor involving the socialization factor and working against your assumptions. In our discussions on our EIJ forum previously on single-sex schooling, it has been brought up that employers and human resource departments in Japan actually discriminate against female graduates who have come from single-sex schools, and that there is a perception among Japanese that they would not be as good at integrating into the male-dominated workplace. This I argue would mean that you have on the one hand, the wealthy set of parents would seek out the safer environment of single-sex pte schools for their girls (to avoid opp. sex distractions/high school pregnancy risks) vs. the more pragmatic middle class set whose key goals are upward mobility of their children through access to competitive universities.
      These divisive mindsets mean that the niche you are talking about is even smaller than you think. I agree with you on one thing that there is nothing to prevent juku proprietors to explore a market niche – and for all we know there are already smaller jukus doing this – but balancing the pragmatic vs social factors considered, in a larger organizational consensual brainstorming setup, single-sex education would require 1) single-sex education to be a fashionable or desirable trend 2) more studies supporting the pedagogical benefits saturating the news already 3) running out of other sexier marketing ideas … for larger juku operators to implement single-sex edu. Likely, it would take the success of some small juku operator who has tried this risky setup, to propel larger ones to make such a move.

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