As the debate persists, all three models continue to thrive in different settings and there is now a recognition of the value each contributes to schooling.
Single sex or co-ed? It is a question asked by many parents and discussed widely by educators. However, in the end it is clear that girls’ schools, boys’ schools and co-ed schools all serve the needs of different students and their families, and that a range of opportunities and styles of education contribute to the richness and health of education provision across the country. That said, there are clear and distinct differences in the environments each offer – you only need to walk through the yard of any school at lunchtime to know that.
The foundation of so many Catholic schools here in Victoria by the religious orders in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries resulted in the strong presence of single-sex schools in Melbourne. The tradition thus established was then consolidated in the later twentieth century by the emerging gender debate and research which provided a deeper understanding of young people, learning and socialisation. The earlier attitudes that young people were best separated so as to avoid distraction from the opposite sex were replaced by a more academic analysis that argued on the basis of distinct learning styles and ways of thinking. In turn, these ideas were countered with the view that a co-ed environment reflected the real world and was thus more advantageous. Discussion and debate about the merits of single-sex versus co-ed schooling for young people became prominent and remains one of the most perennial in education internationally and especially here in Australia. As the debate persists, all three models continue to thrive in different settings and there is now a recognition of the value each contributes to schooling.
Presentation College Windsor and Christian Brothers’ College St Kilda are two of the oldest Catholic schools in Melbourne. Founded within five years in the 1870s, located across the road from each other and with shared foundation stories, the two schools have a long and successful history of partnership. In the last twenty years, this has extended to a joint timetable for VCE and co-ed classes in most subjects in Years 11 and 12. The model offers an interesting combination of the single sex/co-ed experience and affords a different perspective on the age-old debate. Each school remains fully independent and the single-sex dimension, so specifically sought by families at enrollment, is maintained. But as emerging adults, our VCE students are provided with a wider range of subjects to choose from, the responsibility of moving around and between two campuses and the different learning environment of co-ed classes. To be able to offer senior students the recognised benefits of a more adult environment as they approach the tertiary years is a great advantage. Boys and girls as a daily presence on each campus broaden the social context of our schools and invite innovation in teaching and learning practice.
There is a great deal of emphasis currently on schools working in clusters and other partnerships which encourage innovation and effective use of resources. However, such arrangements don’t happen easily or by accident, and enduring partnerships require dedicated attention and maintenance. PCW and CBC’s partnership is founded on a great deal of good will, hard work and the firm belief that our students are the beneficiaries. Without this shared model, each school’s program and the experience of and opportunities for our students would be diminished.
Leonie Keaney began her teaching career in 1976 at Wedderburn High School in country Victoria. In the 1980’s she taught in metropolitan Government schools and TAFE colleges and was involved in education publishing projects.
Leonie taught at St Columba’s College, Essendon for 12 years and was Vice Principal Curriculum from 1996 until 2003. In 2004, she began as Principal of Presentation College Windsor.
Leonie has qualifications in Arts, Education and Business, including BA; Dip Ed; Grad Dip. In 2009 she took part in a summer school at Harvard University’s Principal’s Centre.