First Charterhouse, then Winchester – now Westminster. In the past two years alone, three of Britain’s most famous schools have recently turned, or are planning to turn, fully co-educational. How many more boys’ schools will follow?
One popular argument for the change is, as ever, that girls will be a ‘civilising influence’ upon teenage boys – especially in the light of the sexism exposed by the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ scandals. The more that teenage boys learn to study with girls and respect them, the less likely it is such scandals will be repeated.
I taught at two traditional schools which turned co-educational in the 1990s, Uppingham and Cranleigh. Then, it was usually a shortage of numbers which triggered the move to take girls. In the 1990s and 2000s, numbers were in sharp decline at traditional boarding schools, so it made sense, economically as well as culturally, not to exclude half the potential market.
But now it’s different. Charterhouse, Westminster and Winchester are by-words for excellence. I can’t imagine any of them struggling for pupils, even in today’s harsher economic times.
What’s clear, as Westminster suggests on its website, is that all-boys schools don’t suit the zeitgeist any longer. They seem antiquated, out-of-touch, an unrealistic preparation for the co-ed world to come at university and beyond. What’s more, as the Independent Schools Council (ISC) has revealed, in two-thirds of fee-paying households both parents work. Working parents increasingly want the flexibility of dropping their sons and daughters off at the same school gates, with the same term dates – not having to do everything twice over at separate schools.
Until recently, I taught at Radley College, one of the few remaining traditional public schools which still takes only boys.