In Australia, there are ongoing concerns about declining enrolments in
mathematics, and in females’ under-representation in mathematics and science
studies and related careers.
On a regular basis, the relative benefits of single-sex or co-educational
schooling are debated in the public sphere, with passionate supporters on both
sides. There is a widely held belief that single-sex schooling has distinct
advantages for girls in general, and for the study of science and mathematics,
in particular. At the same time, co-educational schooling is viewed as
beneficial for boys.
In Australia, in the government sector of education, entry into single-sex
schools is generally selective, based on academic achievement. It is in the
fee-paying sectors of education that single-sex schools predominate. In general,
students attending non-government schools have higher socio-economic backgrounds
than students attending government schools.
The literature is equivocal about the benefits of single-sex settings for girls
with respect to achievement and attitudes towards mathematics. Little is known
about the mathematics enrolment patterns for boys and girls attending single-sex
and co-educational schools. If single-sex schooling does indeed favour girls’
likelihood to study and succeed in the maths/science fields, is this apparent in
enrolment patterns in grade 12 mathematics? In this paper we explore the
enrolment patterns in the three Victorian Certificate of Education mathematics
subjects offered at the Grade 12 level for girls and boys attending
co-educational and single-sex schools over the time span 2001-2015. We also
report on survey responses from adult females on their views of whether
single-sex or co-educational schools will best serve boys and girls interested
in STEM studies.
The data reveal that for Specialist Mathematics, there are higher proportions
of boys than girls in both single-sex and in co-educational schools enrolled.
While there was a higher proportion of girls from single-sex than co-educational
schools enrolled, the same was true among boys in the two school types. For
Mathematical Methods CAS, higher proportions of both girls and boys in
single-sex schools than in co-educational schools were enrolled. For Further
Mathematics, the proportions of students enrolled was virtually identical for
boys and girls in both school types.
Considering that the same proportions of boys and girls in both school types
were enrolled in further mathematics, it is simplistic to conclude that the
gendered settings of schools alone contribute to the differences found for the
other two mathematics subjects. Explanations by a well-educated group of adult
females we surveyed on their reported preferences for a single-sex or
co-educational school to promote STEM-related subjects for girls and for boys
suggest that personal histories play a part. There was evidence that the belief
that girls, more often than not, benefit from attendance at a single-sex school