An effective bridge for the gender divide
The parallel learning model suggests that offering both single-sex and co-educational schooling provides the best of both worlds, writes Bradley Fry, Principal of Tintern Grammar.
The debate on whether single-sex or coeducational schools provide the best learning environments for students continues. Numerous well researched, yet contradictory articles are published on the subject each year, providing teachers, students and parents with the difficult task of choosing the best approach for them. The Parallel Learning model suggests that the best choice may be not to have to choose at all.
Having taught in both single sex and coeducational schools, my observations of the Parallel Learning model is that it offers a great middle ground between the two. Boys and girls learn at different rates and in different ways, so it’s advantageous to be able to tailor classes to suit the specific needs of each gender, while still enabling social interaction between the sexes in the wider school environment.
There are a few variations of the Parallel Learning model in existence. Tintern Grammar’s model offers a combination of single-sex and co-educational years, whereby co-educational sessions are offered in the early learning years, and then with girls and boys in separate classes through Junior and Middle Schools. Mixed classes are re-introduced in Year 10 where students benefit from a greater variety of subjects and tertiary-style facilities and gender interaction in the classroom remains.
Proponents of entirely single-sex education argue that the final, intensive academic years of school are the most crucial for separation, ensuring classes can be delivered in a distraction-free environment. My concern is that complete gender separation during secondary education leads to a peer-supported environment of gender stereotyping, resulting in discomfort and difficulty in adulthood.
Supporters of a completely co-educational education take this one step further, suggesting that any gender separation creates a lack of understanding of gender diversity, as well as challenges for students in forming effective cross-gender relationships and developing realworld preparedness. I am not convinced that this level of dogma acknowledges, far less supports, the substantial physiological, psychological and social differences that appear between boys and girls through pre-adolescence and adolescence.
During the final years of secondary school, students must be prepared for life beyond the school gate and able to collaborate with and learn from other boys and girls equally, in their day-to-day interactions. Co-educational Year 10-12 classes promote gender acceptance and understanding. Practically, this model also allows schools to use resources to offer subject diversity. I see these single-sex and mixed classes being delivered on a co-educational campus as the critical combination for an effective parallel learning structure. It allows for social mixing of students in playgrounds and co-curricular activities, which is important as students negotiate their way carefully through preadolescence and adolescence. At the same time, classes are designed to address the differing learning needs, academic orientations and points of engagement of boys and girls at different stages in their mental and emotional development.
Tintern’s academic results suggest the model is working. In 2016, a third of our students achieved an ATAR of 90 and above. These results are encouraging, however, equally important is the feedback I receive. When I sit down for lunch with our Year 12 students shortly before they commence their end of year examinations, they invariably remark on how positive the learning environment was for them. While not a solution to every educational challenge, I am buoyed by the results we have seen at Tintern and am proud of the young adults we are developing.
Bradley Fry is Principal of Tintern Grammar, a leading independent school based in East Victoria that provides enriched education to students of all ages, from earlylearning to senior school.
Brad is Tintern Grammar’s tenth Principal in its 140- year history, and he is committed to maintaining a learning environment that is vibrant, dynamic and student-centred. He also champions the school’s Parallel Learning model that enables students to achieve a perfect balance between gender-specific learning and social integration.
Alongside Brad’s leadership responsibilities, he immerses himself in all aspects of the school and takes an active role in teaching students in the classroom. With a Master of Education from the University of Melbourne and a Graduate Diploma of Company Directorship, Brad understands that lifelong learning should be practiced not only by the student body, but also by members of the faculty.
Prior to joining Tintern Grammar, Brad was Deputy Headmaster and Director of Boarding at Ballarat Grammar.