Ms Forde discusses the merits of a single sex education

Posted on: 03/02/2021

Evelyn Forde, Headteacher at Copthall School, a large, high performing all-girls school in North London, discusses the merits of a single sex education. A space where the volume is always set to loud.


In a recent survey of our current parents, one of the questions we asked was, ‘why did you send your daughter to an all-girls school?’.

One mother’s reply encapsulates a lot of similar responses, “Because the academic achievements of girls are often muted in a mixed educational environment”.

We, like our parents, believe educating girls on their own, allows them the space to flourish and succeed and to ensure their volume is always set to loud!

In a report by the BBC in 2016, revealed that girls at single-sex state schools in England get better GCSE results than those in mixed schools. And the advantage of girls' schools remained even when other factors were considered, such as the social background. Most powerfully, the research showed that girls from poorer families in single-sex schools got better GCSEs than their counterparts in mixed schools. The report was compiled from the evidence produced by education analysts  School Dash.

At Copthall, our progression is ‘well above the national average’ and our outcomes over the past four years have placed us in the top 3% for progress nationally at GCSE. Our A-Level results are equally impressive with nearly 70% of students securing places at their first-choice universities. Furthermore, nearly 22% of students in 2020 progressed to prestigious Russell Group Universities to study Law and Biomedical Sciences, amongst many other subjects.

Is this academic success due to our single-sex environment? We believe a huge part, yes, but of course, there are lots of factors like excellent teaching, leadership, and an extensive range of wider learning opportunities, including a STEM Scholarship programme, extra-curricular trips and activities and external partnerships all play their part, in particular with neighbouring Mill Hill Independent School. A unique collaboration that is seen as a model of good practice.

Perhaps most importantly, we believe the trusted and respectful dynamic between teachers and students is a huge factor in our girls’ success. Our newly elected Student Senate President, Sasha Andresier captures this perfectly, “My best experiences of Copthall are when students and staff work together. The sense of school community is really inspiring to be a part of”.

Our experience shows that in a single-sex environment, girls have the room to assert themselves, to develop confidence and self-worth that may take longer to emerge (if at all) in a co-educational environment. Research by eminent education researcher Linda J. Sax, in her paper ‘Women Graduates of Single-Sex and Coeducational High Schools: Differences in their Characteristics and the Transition to College’ argue that single-sex schools promote a setting more beneficial to learning than coeducation schools and specifically helps ‘girls’ test scores, confidence, and scholastic engagement’ (Sax, 2009, p. 9).

Moreover, Fred Mael in the research ‘Single-Sex Versus Coeducational Schooling: A Systematic Review’ writes that such single-sex schools, reduce the amount of ‘rating and dating’ and the importance of social status seen in co schools (Mael F. A., 1998, p. 104).

Or to put it another way, girls can be exactly who they want to be without the need to conform or equally distracting, impress the boys.

At Copthall, we champion STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), often subjects that are off-putting to girls in a mixed environment, as they, have in the past been perceived as ‘masculine’ subjects. This issue does not exist in our school, our girls know they can and do choose subjects that are right for them without fear of stigma or judgement.  Allowing them to then go on to access careers that have been largely been held by men. In a recent interview I did for BBC London, I discussed this topic with journalist Olivia Demetriades -

Jane Prescott, the President of the Girls' Schools Association, and current Headteacher of Portsmouth High School was quoted recently in The Daily Telegraph on this very subject. She said, “It’s not so much about the absence of boys as the celebration of girls. We aren’t all ardent feminists who don’t like men.”. A point we fully agree with at Copthall School.

We believe we provide a setting in our school that allows girls to be happy and to thrive, and to be proudly visible, which are all important for emotional well-being as well as academic success.

Choosing a single-sex education for your daughter is a personal decision but we see the benefits every day.  We encourage you to consider Copthall School if you are looking for a school that will ensure she fulfils her potential, is happy and confident and is given a platform so that her voice is heard. We encourage all our girls to turn up their volume and be the best version of themselves they can possibly be.

We will leave you with these last words from Afsana Ghani, Copthall’s Head Girl. “Being a part of this school community has improved me as an individual and has definitely taught me to grow and further improve myself by overcoming the limits I had set for myself”.




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