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Girls do better without boys at school, study finds

Susie O’Brien, August 2, 2021 7:00PM Herald Sun

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Isabella Osborn, 13, Erin Ellis, 13, and Sophie Orgill, 17, go to Strathcona Girls Grammar in Melbourne. Picture: Jason Edwards media_cameraIsabella Osborn, 13, Erin Ellis, 13, and Sophie Orgill, 17, go to Strathcona Girls Grammar in Melbourne. Picture: Jason Edwards


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Girls studying at single-sex schools are more mentally tough than those from co-ed campuses, a study has found.

Experts attribute* this to a lack of harmful gender roles and no male domination* of traditional subjects.

A UK study of almost 3000 students found those in girls’ schools were more confident and had better emotional control than those in co-ed* settings, making them better equipped to deal with stress, pressure and challenges.

“This might explain why girls in girls’ schools typically do better academically and are more likely to choose to study STEM* subjects than girls in coeducational* schools,” the report from AQR International found.

STEM Girls media_cameraEmily Pham, 16 and Hita Keshav, 15, are studying STEM subjects at John Monash Science School, a co-ed specialist school in sciences, mathematics and technologies. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

The findings were part of a bigger study of more than 40,000 students which showed independent school pupils were more mentally tough than state school students, but were not more confident.

Alliance of Girls Schools Australasia executive officer Loren Bridge said single-sex female schools “create a unique environment in which girls are encouraged to embrace competition, fearlessly explore subjects that are traditionally male dominated and challenge each other”.

“Girls’ schools have extremely strong pastoral care* programs, all tailored to the needs of girls, supporting their mental health and also equipping them with the tools to build resilience,” she said.

The principal of Victoria’s Strathcona Girls Grammar, Marise McConaghy, said girls’ schools boosted the confidence of their students, which research showed tended to dip between the ages of eight and 14.

“Without the presence of boys and the increased self-consciousness often attached to this, girls feel more empowered* to participate fully,” she said.

Ms McConaghy said research suggested “girls’ self-confidence could be eroded by the effects of gender biases* and stereotyping* found in some coeducational settings”.

“Girls’ schools challenge unhelpful and harmful gender roles by providing a safe environment for girls to try new things, take risks, and pursue excellence in any area they choose, including traditionally male-dominated subjects such as mathematics and the sciences,” she said.

Mentally Tough Girls media_cameraErin Ellis, 13, (centre) and Strathcona Girls Grammar schoolmates Sophie Orgill, 17, and Isabella Osborn, 13. Picture: Jason Edwards

Parent Kylee Ellis chose Strathcona Girls Grammar for her daughter, Erin, 13, who is in Year 7.

“I could see the environment was very supportive and celebrated the strengths of all children,” she said.

“She went to a co-ed primary school but went on to Strathcona because of the opportunities. She continues to develop and give things a go.”

The findings come amid a drift* away from single-sex schools, with Victorian Education Department data showing enrolments in co-ed schools increased by 11 per cent from 2015 to 2020. Enrolments at girls’ schools grew by just 2.4 per cent.


  • attribute: see something as being caused by
  • domination: use power or control over something
  • co-ed/coeducational: having both male and female students
  • STEM: science, technology, engineering and mathematics
  • pastoral care: help with personal needs and problems
  • biases: to see or feel things a certain way, or have a preference for one thing over another
  • empowered: having the power to do something
  • stereotyping: having a fixed idea or image of someone that is often untrue or partly untrue
  • drift: moving slowly


Study reveals benefits of all-girls schools

More girls to become STEM stars of the future

Girls want school uniform rule change

Teen boys more confident than girls, study shows


  1. How many students were part of the study on girls’ schools?
  2. Lack or harmful gender roles and what other reason were given to explain the study findings?
  3. The study on girls’ schools was part of a bigger study which included how many students?
  4. Who is the principal of Strathcona Girls Grammar?
  5. Has there been a bigger increase in enrolments in co-ed or girls’ schools since 2015, according to Victorian Education Department data?


1. State your opinion
Write a persuasive exposition in response to the following statement:

“Australia should transition to an education system that consists solely of single-sex schools.”

You may choose to support or oppose the statement. Include detailed reasons for your position, drawing on or arguing against information included in the news story.

Time: allow 40 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

2. Extension
This news story talks about some of the ways in which girls’ schools support the mental and emotional wellbeing of their students. Identify three ways in which your own school supports mental and emotional wellbeing.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Health and Physical Education

Opener Up-Level It
Make a list of all the openers in the article. Pick three that repeat and see if you can replace them with another word, or shuffle the order of the sentence to bring a new opener to the front.

Don’t forget to re-read the sentence to make sure it still makes sense, and that it actually sounds better.

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