Choosing an all-boys’ boarding education
by Tim Haynes, Headmaster of Tonbridge School
My views on the subject of single-sex education are very much shaped by my time spent as Headmaster of Monmouth and, for the last ten years, as Headmaster of Tonbridge – both are well-regarded all-boys’ boarding schools. Although all-boys’ schools were once commonplace, there are now only a few of comparable size and reputation to, for example, Tonbridge, with most of them having become co-educational.
I am often asked why Tonbridge has stayed as an all-boys’ school and what I think the advantages of a single sex education are.
Firstly, I would say that co-educational schools can and do provide an excellent education, so there is not only one way to go if you are in the process of considering schools for your son or daughter. I do however believe that single-sex schools have certain advantages.
Young people are under enormous pressure these days. Indeed there have been studies suggesting teenagers are experiencing stress and anxiety more than ever before. This can be academic pressure or social pressure – to look or behave in a certain way. These issues have only been exacerbated by digital and social media. In a single-sex school, boys or girls can feel less self-conscious and a little more comfortable in their own skins. They are not afraid to try new things and are given the space to make mistakes within a supportive environment. Simply put, they are encouraged to relax and be themselves.
This approach also allows boys and girls to take full advantage of the co-curricular opportunities that are often provided – for example, there is nothing to stop a boy enjoying his rugby or cricket, but taking his music or drama just as seriously. Students feel able to experiment with a broad range subjects and interests. It is also widely recognised that boys and girls develop physically and emotionally at very different rates. especially in their teenage years. Clearly being in an all-boys’ or all-girls’ school helps to deal with this, particularly in terms of pastoral care.
Boys and girls learn differently
There is also plenty of evidence that boys and girls learn differently and so there are advantages in teaching them separately. It is of course a generalisation, but boys and girls can react quite differently to classroom environments, project deadlines and exams.
However, I don’t believe that the boys at Tonbridge, or students at any single-sex school, should lead some sort of monastic existence – this would only serve to cut them off from the world around them and limit their experiences. At Tonbridge, we value our relationship with the wider local community and the boys meet a range of different people from varying backgrounds through their voluntary work at local organisations and in many other ways. Regular events take place with all-girls’ and co-educational schools, either through a boy’s house or through our clubs and societies and we have many joint musical and drama productions. So it is not the case that the boys in an all-boys’ school have no social interaction with girls – but we believe our approach offers the best of both worlds.
In the end the best way to decide whether a single-sex boarding school is right for your child is to visit the school. Spend time at the school, go on a tour and ask questions. Only then will you get a sense of whether it feels like the right environment for your child.
Tim Haynes became Headmaster of Tonbridge School in September 2005. Before Tonbridge he was the Headmaster of Monmouth School for ten years. He taught History at St Paul's School for 13 years and was Surmaster from 1992. Tim was educated at Shrewsbury School and Reading University. He took his PGCE at Pembroke College, Cambridge.