This is a reasonable question and one to which all parents choosing single-sex education and all of us involved in it need a positive answer. The origins of single-sex schooling may lie in history, but this does not explain their survival, indeed their flourishing, in a world that has moved far beyond the original assumptions of their foundation.

When it comes to girls’ schools, my own, very personal, answer to this question is simple. I have worked in single-sex boys’, single-sex girls’, and co-education. That experience has taught me first that it is about the right school for the right child, and there are no absolute rules; and second, that the best girls’ schools are genuinely, unequivocally and uniquely wonderful places to learn and to work.

For me two things make them so special. The first is freedom. Freedom from some gender-based assumptions and expectations. Freedom from some of the anxieties that accompany adolescence for boys and girls. Freedom to be simply and wholly oneself: for each student to develop and explore and cherish their identity and individuality. I have seen both boys and girls move between performative mode in mixed company, playing to a perceived gendered gallery, and back to a mode that feels more natural, freer and more true to themselves when returning to a single-sex setting.

The second is unity. The strength of an all-girls’ school is the way in which the whole community celebrates and moves forward together. There is an avid curiosity, a fellowship, a shared sense of endeavour, an enthusiasm, a warmth, a readiness to laughter and a generosity that I have not witnessed in any other environment. It is perhaps most easily described as the opposite of the arid, confrontational, hostile, showy, vacuous sterility of the worst political debate. It is not perfect – individuals and the whole community face challenges, as is the case for every community – but as a model for how to live and learn together, at its best it is inspiring, creative and joyous.

Alongside all of this there is the ongoing research suggesting girls simply do better in girls’ schools. Not just in terms of outcomes and free range of subject choice, including in maths and science: but in terms of confidence, assertiveness and readiness to take intellectual risks – both in school and beyond it.

Our understanding of young people and our understanding of gender develops all the time, as indeed does the world for which all schools seek to prepare their students. Yet amidst this change the case for girls’ schools endures and indeed strengthens. Not to segregate but to celebrate; not to reinforce narrow binaries but to have the freedom to think and grow beyond them; not to deny the reality of the wider world – but to prepare our young students to play the fullest role in it and to have the confidence, always, to continue to change it for the better. 

Will le Fleming, Head