Look Up, Reach Out: Why Girls' Schools are so Good for Girls


When discussing the benefits of the girls' schools to the Abbotsleigh community, I realise that I am, in reality, 'speaking to the converted'. However, with so much attention given to the benefits of co-ed as opposed to single sex schools in the print and social media, I thought it worthwhile to share with you some recent research that has come from the United States. Please see below for a useful excerpt of the findings of a new study from Cornell University as reported in a recent education journal. 

According to this new study, 'girls achieve better results in maths and science when they have high-achieving girls in their class … Conversely, teenage girls do worse in their education, careers and social lives when they have more high-achieving boys in their classes. Importantly, the study noted that the greater the exposure to high-achieving boys, the greater the negative effect on girls' self-confidence and aspirations.'

On the other hand, boys were not affected by exposure to high-achievers of either gender.

These results are consistent with previous studies which have found that the presence of high-performing males reduces females' completion of mathematics and/or science courses.

Feld and Zölitz (2018) found that women in the first year of study at a Dutch business school were less likely than men with a higher grade point average to choose a mathematics-related major, while Mouganie and Wang (2017) found that having high-performing males in 10th grade at school in China reduced girls' likelihood of choosing the science track in senior school.

The Alliance of Girls' Schools Australasia (AGSA) Executive Officer, Loren Bridge, said that the study confirmed that the absence of gender stereotyping in an all-girls school was enormously beneficial.

"Girls' schools provide an environment where girls are not exposed to stereotype threat  – where they may be intimidated by high-achieving boys who are assumed to be more naturally talented at maths  – or teacher bias; where teachers unintentionally give preference to high-achieving boys," Bridge said.

"Instead, girls are exposed to high-achieving girls in their classes, year levels and throughout their schools as well as to successful alumnae, all of whom inspire them to 'be what they can see' by role modelling success and achievement."

This, says Bridge, is clearly demonstrated in the academic results of girls' schools and by their alumnae who continue to challenge gender stereotypes by entering male-dominated fields such as engineering and economics…

Girls do better in single-sex schools – new research.
 - Brett Henebery, The Educator 

At Abbotsleigh we encourage our girls to choose subjects (when they have the opportunity to do so in the Senior School) which they love and are good at. Our girls study at the highest levels in all subject areas and do not see subjects from a gendered perspective. We are very proud of the way in which they embrace challenges and are willing to take academic risks; we are also very proud of their quite phenomenal achievements in all areas. 

Co-author of the report above, Professor Eleanora Patacchini, also noted that 'girls seem to help other girls.' This has certainly been borne out in my many years of experience in girls' schools. Girls work well together and certainly help each other; in fact, the girls who do best are in an environment where they trust each other, share the workload and notes and revise together by reteaching each other different topics. This was most definitely my experience when I taught Year 12 classes at Abbotsleigh a number of years ago. 

Over the last few days, I have had the great privilege of spending some time with Year 11 and Year 12 girls where we discussed the benefits of being at Abbotsleigh and a girls' school from their perspective. The following is a list of just some of the things the girls value about their experience of Abbotsleigh:

Abbotsleigh is unique
It is such an inclusive environment and community
All leaders are girls
We feel empowered as women – this is especially so when we hear of inequality and such things as gender pay gap – we feel we can accomplish anything
The learning environment is fantastic – it is 'normal' to want to learn and do well at Abbotsleigh. (This is not necessarily the case at other schools)
There are so many opportunities here at Abbotsleigh – a huge range across all areas 
We are able to connect with school and each other because there is so much on offer
We also have the opportunity to give back – empathy and service to others are really important
School and house spirit is incredible
Girls' sport is really celebrated here
Music, drama, debating, public speaking and the list goes on, are brilliant
We are free to develop 'who we are' without the pressure of boys
We are more confident – we don't have to worry about what boys think of us at school
Our teachers are amazing – they have great relationships with us, we learn so much, and our teachers are so supportive and always prepared to spend time helping us with our learning

It is certainly a great privilege to work with your wonderful daughters and our amazing staff. I know your daughters are very appreciative of all that you do, too, to support them on their learning journey at Abbotsleigh. 


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