'Why do private girls’ schools outrank boys when it comes to the HSC?' SMH Jordan Baker June 15, 2022
This article was published in the Sydney Morning Herald.
By Jordan Baker - June 15, 2022
Sydney’s most affluent suburbs are home to some of its oldest schools, which have been educating the sons or the daughters of the families who can afford them for generations.
The girls’ schools and boys’ schools have similar price tags – some recently breached the $40,000 a year mark – and students from a similar demographic, but their academic results tend to be different. When it comes to top achievers in the HSC, the girls’ schools far outshine the boys’.
The reasons are complex and contested. Some say the same factors that lower boys’ achievement across the board are at play, such as slower maturity and the mandatory inclusion of English in the HSC, which favours girls.
Others say boys’ schools still focus on producing all-rounders, while the girls’ schools’ have a stronger emphasis on academic results to prepare their students for a greater challenge in the workforce.
“Girls leave [their single-sex] school with the understanding that life beyond school is still markedly unequal for women, but equipped with the confidence and self-belief to meet that head-on,” said Loren Bridge, the executive officer of the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia.
Among the top 50 schools in the HSC last year there were 20 non-selective girls’ schools, including Kambala, Meriden, Abbotsleigh, SCEGGS Darlinghurst and Ravenswood, and just two non-selective boys’ schools, Knox and Cranbrook.
There were 12 non-selective girls’ schools ahead of the highest-ranked non-selective boy’s school, Knox Grammar. In the top 10, which were mostly selective schools, there were four co-ed, three boys’ and three girls’ schools.
This reflects University Admissions Centre data across the HSC cohort, revealed by the Herald, that boys and girls achieve similarly only at the very top and bottom of the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank scale, and girls dominate the rest.
However, some also say these sandstone, high-fee boys’ and girls’ schools also have different approaches to education which exacerbates the disparity in their results.
One principal, who has run both girls’ and boys’ colleges, said many boys’ schools still had a philosophy of producing all-rounders, while at girls’ schools, parents and the school’s board had higher academic expectations.
“Parents are still happy for their son to be a good all-rounder and play in the first XV, while many parents did not care if their daughter did netball, they wanted [an ATAR of] 98,” he said.
Sport is not mandatory at most girls’ schools; at boys’ schools, it is. Teachers at boys’ schools are often called upon to coach teams. “[Boys’ schools need to] move very quickly to keeping boys’ sports alive through old boys and professional coaches, and get teachers to focus on teaching and learning,” he said.
Boys’ schools have also been hit harder by COVID-19. In a speech to year 12 parents in March, a recording of which was obtained by the Herald, Shore School headmaster Tim Petterson said the overwhelming pattern in the 2020-21 Higher School Certificate was that “the boys’ schools have gone backwards.
“Most of these boys’ schools have been impacted by the loss of structure, by all these things boys benefit from, and [COVID-19] has challenged that.” Petterson said the exception was Newington College in Stanmore.
Timothy Wright, the former principal of Shore, said when he led a co-ed school, about two-thirds of the top students were girls. “With those students receiving the same teaching and the same context, I would have said that showed some of those maturity differences.”
He also criticised the mandator inclusion of English in the HSC, which tends to favour girls. “There’s bias in the system. My view is that if you’re going to have an ATAR, there should be free choice for students to nominate their 10 best units.”
Another boys’ school headmaster said boys would benefit from more flexible and agile structures and practices in education. “I suspect that the default settings in schools are oriented more towards girls and the ways they learn, rather than boys,” said Tim Bowden, principal of Trinity Grammar.
“In any case, girls seem better able to adapt to the existing structures and practices.”
Bridge said girls’ schools gave students the grit and self-esteem to achieve their potential. “Whilst we know girls do very well academically at girls’ schools, a good education is also about nurturing the development and growth of confident, resilient and inquisitive global citizens, and creating a connected community where each girl feels she can be herself, is supported and belongs.”