The Impact of School Size and Single-sex Education on Performance - this new report is now available from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). The Local Government Association (LGA) commissioned the study as part of their Educational Research Programme for supporting and promoting educational research. The publication of school 'league tables' has stimulated many debates about the best environment for fostering pupils' learning and development. Two of the issues contested as part of this debate are the ideal size of schools and whether single-sex education improves student performance. A review of previous research into these issues revealed very little robust evidence relating to England. As a result, the NFER carried out a study examining the impact of school size and single-sex education on pupil performance and opportunities, using national value-added datasets, which contain individual pupil data across 979 primary and 2,954 secondary schools. The impact on performance in secondary schools was measured with reference to GCSE results, among others GCSE average point score and English, mathematics and total science score.
Furthermore, the analysis investigated the impact on opportunities available to students in secondary schools, in terms of entry to higher key stage 3 tiers and GCSE subjects. Almost all primary schools are mixed, but an analysis of key stage 2 results was undertaken to investigate the possible impact of primary school size. When other factors were taken into account, school size was not found to have any significant impact on performance. The key findings of the research relating to secondary schools were that: - pupils in larger schools have access to a wider range of GCSE options - medium-sized schools obtain better results than very large or very small schools - girls' schools help to counter traditional sex-stereotyping in subject choices - girls in single-sex comprehensive schools perform better than girls in mixed comprehensives - boys with low prior attainment achieve slightly better results at GCSE in boys' schools than in mixed comprehensives - boys in single-sex grammar schools perform better than those in mixed grammar schools.
These findings suggest that girls, and to a certain extent boys, can benefit academically from attending single-sex secondary schools and that school size does have some impact on opportunities and performance. However, the differences measured were not very large even though statistically significant. Further research needs to be carried out to explore the impact on other important outcomes, such as girls' and boys' social and personal development, which also need to be considered when deciding what kind of school is best.