Nelson College Headmaster Gary O’Shea dons his black gown and walks on stage to address a sea of students. 1,100 curious faces stare back at him, from fresh-faced new entrants to seniors sprouting stubble. He starts to speak about strength, love, honour and mateship – what it means to be a man.
“There is this oasis of single sex calm,” he says. “Those personal conversations you can have support them at a really fragile time in their lives. I see strength in that.”
Fewer than 2.5 percent of New Zealand’s schools are boys’ only. But Mr O’Shea believes their students have a significant advantage. A newly-released report, commissioned by the Association of Boys’ Schools of New Zealand, backs him up.
The study, by Victoria University’s senior education lecturer Dr Michael Johnston, compared the performance of young men in Years 11-13 at single sex schools with those at co-educational schools. Examining results from 2013-2015, he found students at boys’ schools were higher achievers, regardless of the school’s decile rating or the students’ ethnicity. Maori students at low decile schools performed significantly better in single sex education.
In 2015 the median percentage of male school leavers attaining University Entrance was 48% in boys’ schools, versus 28% in co-ed
In low decile (1-4) boys’ schools 32% gained UE, versus 15% in co-ed
For Maori in low decile schools, 22.7% gained UE, versus 7.6% in co-ed
So very clear evidence that on average boys do better in single sex schools. Not all boys, but on average.
We know that boys are doing badly in the NZ education system. They do worse than girls at all levels. They leave earlier than girls, and far fewer boys go on to tertiary education.
So surely one solution is to make sure that we have enough single sex boys schools around, so families have that choice available for them.
But off memory there has been no new boys schools for over 20 years. The Government will only agree to new schools that are co-ed. If so, this is wrong. Parents should have the choice of both a co-ed and a single sex school within a reasonable distance. Otherwise I fear boys will overall continue to do badly at school.