May 3, 2023

Rector’s eNews – 03 May 2023

/ Rector's eNews

Very recently, Westminster School, one of the most famous schools in the world set in the precincts of Westminster Abbey in London and dating back to its foundation in 1560, announced that it would be going fully co-educational. For some years, Westminster has been a boys’ school up to the Sixth Form and the boys have been joined by girls at age 16+ for the final two years. This has left just four all-boys, all-boarding independent schools in the UK: Eton, Harrow, Radley and Tonbridge.

There are many interesting reasons why there is a trend towards co-education internationally; these range from such beliefs that boys and girls will be in the workplace together and so need to grow up in similar circumstances through to a view that it is more “natural” to be in a co-ed environment. There are also more practical reasons: for example, many schools do not have a large enough geographical catchment area on which to draw to enable them to be financially viable as single-sex schools and others may believe that the inclusion of girls will enhance their academic reputation as girls often out-perform boys academically at the age of 18. In countries such as the UK where the press has created league tables which seek to rank schools academically without reference to the starting point of each pupil, academic ranking is often the criterion which makes one school more highly regarded and, thus, more popular than others.

A school such as Wellington College in Berkshire, UK, for example, introduced girls at all levels about 20 years ago and suddenly shot up in the much-vaunted league tables. Wellington suddenly became sought after as parents envisaged their offspring more easily getting into the top UK or international universities from such a school. The debate about whether co-ed or single sex schools cater best for individuals has been argued successfully from both sides over the past 50 years and “the research” has demonstrated the value of one above the other and then the other way around. It is simply inconclusive.

While the trend, internationally, is a movement to co-education at all levels, mainly I would argue for practical reasons (e.g financial consideration) which are then justified by “the theory”, we are fortunate to live in an area and, indeed, country in which the largest number of prominent schools are single sex. I have been Head of both single sex and co-educational schools and there are certain features and attributes which make single sex schools such as Michaelhouse very special and which define their ethos and impact on their following amongst parents, alumni and others.

A chief feature of Michaelhouse is the passion which boys feel for their school and, in most cases, the strength of relationships which they have with each other. This develops over the years, sometimes from an inauspicious start in the E Block, and leads to the creation of a “brotherhood” which is an incredibly close bond which becomes an extremely important part of the life of the boys and enables support for each other in extraordinary ways both in their school years and afterwards. This sense of camaraderie is a viral aspect of what makes the boys enjoy their school years, and one often hears comments, after a holiday, about how much the boys enjoy being back at school. Leaving school, we have Old Boys who will support and develop Michaelhouse school leavers as they move into the world outside of school, we have benefactors who support boys within the school and we have countless well-wishers who contribute to the school in a range of different ways.

None of this is necessarily to the fore as we go about our daily lives, but the passion for the school is never more conspicuous than on a Michaelhouse/Hilton Day when boys demonstrate that passion and pride in a thousand ways. One thing of which I am certain is that you do not get that sense of passion for a school in a co-ed senior school environment. You do not get the committed and voluble support from the stands and you do not get pupils spending hours on perfecting a spelling of the name of their school or the war cries which are a unifying factor amongst boys.
The great passion of most boys for their school also results in great disappointment when not everything goes their way, but on Saturday we won more games than we lost and there was also generally a very good spirit evident in the matches against Hilton, with only a few regrettable instances of poor judgement marring a great day with a thrilling climax. We offer our congratulations to Hilton on their success and take pride in our own achievements and the approach of our boys.

Single Sex Schools

There are, of course, many other aspects which make Michaelhouse and other single sex schools special; these include provision for the specific needs of boys and an understanding and enhancement of the best traditions which often wither or do not develop in co-educational schools as they might.

During the morning, the MEC of Education in KwaZulu-Natal, the Honourable Mbali Frazer MP, made a visit to the school with the intention of meeting the captains of both schools’ rugby and hockey teams. She was accompanied by Mr Ray Mkhulisi, Old Boy and member of the Board, and had a tour of the school.

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