Making the transition from single-sex to co-ed | A checklist for schools and boarding schools

Is your school looking to make the change from single-sex to co-ed?

We explore the key things to consider when switching from single-sex to co-ed

It’s a question that has raised debate for hundreds of years. And there still isn’t a definitive answer. Much has been researched on the pros and cons of single-sex versus co-ed school settings, and we’re not really any closer to settling the argument. Some herald the end of supposedly antiquated co-ed environments, whilst others have never been more sure of the benefits of keeping boys and girls apart. As with many things, it more often than not comes down to personal preference.

Yet recently, there has been an increasing trend of single-sex schools opening their doors to the opposite gender. On the surface, little needs to change. After all, a good school is a good school, right? High-quality teaching and learning are not gender-specific. And hopefully, in the modern world, the facilities don’t need much tweaking either. Girls and boys should have access to largely the same tools and facilities to assist them in their learning and educational experiences. But despite this, there are some important factors to consider when making the change from single-sex to co-ed.For boarding schools, the stakes are even higher. As well as catering for the subtle differences encompassing the curriculum, there are clearly defined legal requirements to satisfy the national minimum standards. Getting these right is not just important for the well-being of the students, but is crucial in achieving legal compliance.So whether it’s due to financial reasons, for factors of inclusion, or simply just a preference for change, we drill down into the main things to consider for those schools welcoming boys or girls to their community for the very first time.

Suitable toilet and washing facilities 
Let’s get the obvious out of the way; the washing and toilet facilities for single-sex schools will need to be adapted to cater for both genders. This includes changing and showering facilities that allow for appropriate levels of privacy. You might find you are able to adapt and segregate your current amenities, but chances are, to make the space function properly, you’ll need a bit of a redesign and restructure.

Boarding houses will also need to make sure they are properly equipped. Guidelines require that suitable toilet and washing facilities are installed for all boarders, and they must be accessible from the sleeping accommodation. In addition, separate facilities should be provided for boys and girls unless the toilet is in a separate room and can be privately used by one pupil at a time. All doors must have secure locks and boarders should feel that the amenities offer adequate levels of privacy.

Pupils and boarders induction and support

Schools might need to consider how their induction process changes to cater for the emotional needs of boys and girls. You might decide that your current programme is suitable for both sexes, but it’s certainly worth reviewing in light of new gender additions to the school body. Children should have members of staff who they are able to turn to for personal guidance, and it is essential that both genders have both male and female staff who they are able to discreetly approach with any issues or concerns.

Schools with boarders must identify at least one adult –other than a parent and outside of the staff body –who pupils may contact regarding concerns or issues at school. Boarders must be aware of who this designated person is and feel comfortable contacting them should the need arise. For schools making the transition from single-sex to co-ed, it’s important to check that these carefully chosen individuals are still suitable.

Pupil health and wellbeing 
Always important, but perhaps never more prominent (which can only be a good thing!) is the provision for health and wellbeing. Promoting positive mental and physical health within staff and students should be near the top of anyone’s agenda. You might think you have this sewn up with your current pupil body but is it still as effective if you introduce another gender onto the school site. What worked so well for one set of students might not be as effective for another. Do you offer breakout spaces that appeal to both genders? Are there gender-neutral places to switch off and disengage? Does the school offer a wide range of play and leisure equipment that appeals to both boys and girls? All of these need to be revisited when planning to become co-ed.Sleeping accommodationFor those schools offering boarding, it goes without saying that the sleeping accommodation will require some investment in order to bring it up to co-ed expectations. Again, legislation dictates the minimum requirements for schools. If boarders are over the age of 8, sleeping accommodation must be separate for boys and girls. It must be suitably furnished and sufficient for the needs and ages of the boarders. There should be appropriate protection and separation between genders, age groups, as well as from the accommodation foradults. But these are the minimum requirements, we’d suggest going further than this and making a bold statement with your boarding facilities. For inspiration, why not check out Envoplan’s bespoke boarding house design?

Sports and games facilities, and the appropriate sporting expertise

However inclusive a school’s PE and games curriculum might be, there are some distinct differences between sports played at school by the different sexes. Schools welcoming boys or girls for the first time will need to ensure that they have relevant spaces, correct playground or sportsfield markings, and the appropriate equipment to cater for a co-ed sporting calendar. In addition to that, staff will need to be confident in their ability to officiate matches and provide appropriate coaching and training sessions. And if you need specialist storage for all of this new sports equipment, check out the Envoplan gallery for school storage ideas.
Provision for activities and free time

It’s important during periods of transition that positive behaviour is encouraged to reduce the impact of any disruption. This is best achieved by providing stimulating activities for all children. When establishing a newly formed co-ed setting it might be worth conducting an audit of existing free-time activities and games toensure that there is something engaging for all age groups and genders.For boarding schools, managing free time can be a complex staffing issue, and procedures should be in place to guarantee sufficient staffing. This can be another area for consideration when planning for the inclusion of both boys and girls. It is important that any rota or timetable includes a consistent mix of both male and female staff. Whilst not necessarily a legal requirement, it could be beneficial to the wellbeing of the children.Listen to the school community and change things that aren’t workingCrucial to making co-ed settings thrive is listening to and acting upon the view of the whole school community. Regular pupil conferencing should be established and opportunities for improvements and additions should be considered. All members of the school are encouraged to contribute their ideas to the day-to-day organisation and they should not be penalised for raising concerns or making suggestions. And if you’d like a bit of design inspiration, why not check out the Envoplan school design gallery?
So that’s our guide to what we believe to be the most important things to acknowledge when making the change from single-sex to co-ed school. It’s not definitive, and thereare certainly other things to consider. If you think we’ve missed anything, why not let us know in the comments below.To speak to one of the Envoplan design team about making sure your school is ready to go co-ed, please get in touch.

We’d love to be part of the exciting journey to extend and enhance your co-ed community

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