When the words “single-sex” surface in a news report, controversy is rarely far away. In an era of significant progress on gender equality, many of the practices of the past have been consigned to history. In golf, for instance, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers’ long-standing policy of offering membership to men only makes it stand out as, at best, an anachronism and at worst sexist.
That is not to say that single-sex establishments are all relics of the past. In private education, there are plenty of examples of all-male and all-female establishments. But there is only one remaining state-funded single-sex school in Scotland.
Should that cause us concern? Does it translate into discrimination within the state system? It’s very easy to jump to the conclusion that such a distinction should be done away with, in the name of gender equality. Notre Dame High School in Glasgow has only permitted girls to attend since it was founded in 1897. Today it is one of the best performing schools in the city.
The school’s status is being challenged by a group of parents, and it is only right that they are heard if they construct a compelling case. Not unreasonably, the parents of children at Notre Dame Primary, a feeder school, ask why their sons and daughters have to be split up when they move on to high school.
It’s a sensitive matter, and Glasgow City Council has pointed out change would only take after full formal consultation and with wide support across the school’s community.
It would be the end of an era if Notre Dame High opened its gates to boys, but if that is what the majority desire, then it would be time to make a final break with tradition.