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View from the Top: Alastair Chirnside on the vital role of co-education

What is the purpose of education? There are many answers to that question: the acquisition of knowledge, the development of character, learning how to think critically, understanding how to relate to others, finding out where interests and talents lie, and recognising the rewards of hard work.

At St Edward’s, we believe that the primary purpose of education must be to prepare children to take their places in society as independent adults, giving them the points of social reference that they will need to be good citizens and to lead professionally and personally fulfilling lives. On that basis, and especially in our increasingly digitalised and automated society, the development of emotional intelligence is perhaps the most important element in a good education. People matter, and the ability to work with others has never been more important. Co-education has a vital role to play.

As educators, we know that young people learn from each other. As they prepare to take their places in wider society, children graduating from a co-educational school will have more points of social reference; they will have seen more men and women among the staff as role models; they will have looked up to older girls and older boys together as the leaders among the pupils; they will have seen equality, diversity and inclusion every day; they will be more ready for life in the real world.

Beyond the unarguable normality of co-education, the range of opportunity and influence in a school like St Edward’s is boundless. Girls and boys take dance lessons together, girls play rugby and boys play netball; there are mixed teams for hockey, cricket and football. Girls and boys play music together, study together, debate together, socialise together, and learn a lifetime of respect and understanding along the way.

The lives of our children need to be a continuous narrative, without an artificial parenthesis during their formative years in education. Separateness and difference are the antithesis of the cohesion and the mutual respect that our society needs, now more than ever. Whatever path children take through school and through life, that sense of togetherness is central to the purpose of their education. And it comes best from co-education.