Are girls at single-sex schools “at a huge disadvantage”? | Portsmouth High School

Are girls at single-sex schools “at a huge disadvantage”?

Happy New Year! I do hope you all enjoyed a good Christmas and festive holiday.

I was preparing to write this first Update on another topic but after Richard Cairns, Headmaster of Brighton College, outburst in the news this week I feel I must respond to his outrageous and unfounded comment that girls at single-sex schools can achieve top grades but are “at a huge disadvantage” if they leave unable to talk to boys. If girls did not socialise with boys at school, “what happens when they go out into the workplace?”, asked Cairns.  He went onto say single-sex schools were a “deeply unrealistic world”.

To my knowledge Richard Cairns has no experience in teaching in a single-sex school whilst I speak with a degree of experience. Not only have I taught in co-ed schools but I was once an army officer and the only female in a regiment of 750 men.  At no time have I had difficulty in relating to my colleagues in the workplace or indeed to friends of either gender despite attending a single-sex school. Cairns’ comments are described by Caroline Jordan, President of the Girls’ School Association as “tiresome” and I could not agree more.


The advantages of a single-sex education are that children tend to stay younger for longer – especially girls, pupils can concentrate on everything school has to offer without worrying about appearance and all studies show that boys and girls mature at different rates and therefore teachers can adapt their lessons accordingly.

There are so many famous examples of women, educated at a girls’ school, who have achieved well in a traditionally male dominated workplace and from our own alumna – our chair of governors, for example, Mrs McMeehan-Roberts forged an outstanding career in the city, Dr Frances Saunders is president of the Institute of Physics and Dr Jane Collins is CEO of the Marie Curie charity. Richard Cairns is talking through his hat.

The full article on this debate can be read in The Argus (Brighton). An extract from the article on Dr Frances Saunders, alumna of Portsmouth High School, can be read here.