Limerick research shows no advantage to single sex schools

Dr Darragh Flannery, Senior Lecturer, Department of Economics, Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick

RESEARCH carried out at University of Limerick has revealed there is ‘no significant difference’ in academic performance between students attending single sex schools and those in mixed schools.

The research, led by Dr Darragh Flannery from the University of Limerick and Professor José Clavel from the University of Murcia in Spain, found no major difference between both cohorts in terms of science, maths or reading.

The study focused on 5,000 students and included extensive information about individual students and the schools they attend.

Dr Flannery explained: “The topic of single-sex versus mixed-sex schooling continues to be a source of debate within education policy in many countries. However, there is limited evidence around the relationship between attending a single-sex school and academic performance.

“In Ireland, relative to other countries, a high proportion of secondary school children – roughly one third – attend a single-sex secondary school. For this reason, the Irish educational system provides an interesting setting for exploring the outcomes of single-sex schooling.”

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The analysis shows significant raw gaps in reading, science, and maths performance with pupils in single-sex schools performing better than those in mixed-schools.

However, once the researchers applied a range of individual and school level factors such as the socio-economic background of the student, the school student-staff ratio, the quality of teaching material available to the school and whether or not the school is disadvantaged, these gaps did not present as statistically significant.

It reveals, on average, that there is no difference in maths, science or reading performance for 15-year-olds after adjusting for the background of the student and other school-level factors and this result was found for both boys and girls.

“Our analysis shows no evidence of an academic advantage to attending a single sex school for boys or girls in Ireland,” Dr Flannery added.