June 11, 2024

By Ed Balfour, Head

Preparatory schools prepare children for the future and that future is, unsurprisingly, more than any previous generations, coeducational.

Edge Grove has been resolutely and progressively coeducational since the 1990s and for over thirty years has taught boys and girls to live, work and learn together as equal, independent and confident members of our community.

In truth, our very youngest pupils have a very limited understanding as to the differences between boys and girls, however, as gender awareness grows, girls naturally seem to gravitate more towards other girls and boys towards other boys as they come to define their own gender. One of the wonderful features of successful prep coeducational prep schools is when year groups of boys and girls learn to establish respectful, mature coeducational working relationships through the final years of their prep education.

Many years ago, I taught at an independent senior boys’ school, which introduced girls for the first time into Year 9. I taught an all-boy Year 9 top English set the year before girls arrived, the following year, I taught the same set but with girls and could compare the differences between single sex and coeducational education. In the coeducational set, girls encouraged the boys to set higher standards of presentation and written accuracy, their oracy was more precise and considered, The girls also benefited, quickly learning to be bolder, to take more academic risks, to try out higher order thinking through discussion and exploration, expanding their learning zones and accelerating their learning. I saw boys and girls working together, complementing and enhancing learning in symbiosis. Although not as culturally diverse as Edge Grove, discussion and debate were enhanced coming from different gender perspectives and the challenging of stereotype and orthodoxy became the norm.
Co-educational settings also provide a rich environment for progressive child-centred education, whether it is in promoting pupil voice, establishing a meaningful and pupil-led Mission and its underpinning Values or in celebrating a truly inclusive and diverse community. Coeducation for me provides a platform which prepares pupils for the real-world interactions they will encounter in later life.

Many Edge Grove pupils move on to single-sex, 11+ or 13+ senior schools, which would seem to suggest that coeducation is a less important consideration for parents considering prep schools. I would argue that this makes choosing a coeducational prep school an obvious priority.

My early education was at an all-boys’ prep school and an all boys’ grammar school, which later introduced girls into its Sixth Form. Although I had friends who were girls, I had not really lived or studied with girls until the age of sixteen, missing early opportunities for rich coeducational collaboration, empathy, respect for different perspectives and indeed a healthy sense of competition.

Having taught in coeducational senior and prep schools for thirty years, I would not teach in a single-sex school, partly because coeducation facilitates progressive educational development, helps schools to cut loose from dated dogma and to think creatively about how boys and girls can live and work harmoniously together. Coeducation helps schools to explore co-educational opportunities in sport, where boys feel comfortable playing netball and hockey and girls get to play football rugby and cricket. Look at the advantages that coeducation has in the direction of and production of plays, obviating the need for schools to ship in pupils from other schools….