First year Physics, Astronomy and Space Science, Peter Tisdall admitted “I was worried as I went from mixed primary education to single-sex secondary education, but I really had nothing to feel uncomfortable about.”
Tisdall explains that like many segregated schools, his secondary school was religion-based, but there were easy opportunities to meet the opposite sex.
“I went to Catholic University School on Leeson Street, which was not isolated from girls as we were quite close to The Institute of Education and Loreto Convent.”
Rather than the change from single to mixed-sex education, Tisdall found the biggest change to overcome when embarking of college life was the sheer size of UCD.
Whilst in secondary school, Tisdall explains that there were efforts by his school to help the boys interact with girls in a different school.
“Our school went on trips and tours with the Loreto Convent, so we did interact with girls in that manner. Also, the two schools performed plays together and did other activities. Things like that meant that we weren’t completely lacking in contact with girls.”
In remembering his school days, Tisdall notes that being in an all male environment didn’t hamper his school experience.
“I think if some of the people I was educated with would have had to learn in an environment with girls, it would have been detrimental to them. A few of them were quite attention seeking, so probably would not have fared well in mixed education. I don’t think it would really have affected me though.”
The bullying that had become associated with such schools only represented itself in “funny banter and a few harsh words” for Tisdall.
Tisdall argues that single-sex schools do not hinder social development, remarking “most of the guys had girlfriends, so it wasn’t as if we were without a social life. We mostly saw the girls from the other schools at lunchtime, especially in the later years, as we were allowed to go to town for lunch then. I think that it doesn’t make a real difference if you’re in mixed or same-sex education.”
He opins that despite the extreme difference between single and mixed-sex schools, neither are better or worse. “Obviously it would have been nice to have a few more girls around, but it’s natural to feel that way. There weren’t really any obvious advantages or disadvantages in my eyes.”
First year Arts student, Kate Higham takes the view that attending a mixed or single-sex school makes an enormous difference to your adolescent experience.
“I attended Scoil Mhuire in Longford and, in my opinion, there are obvious advantages and disadvantages to attending school with solely girls.”
“The main advantage of being away from boys means they’re less of a distraction. Having them in class could be a problem for most girls. We got far more time to focus on our studies.”
Yet for certain girls, the issue of being in a solely female environment can be frustrating.
“The disadvantage is that you’re around girls all day. I’m the type of girl who has more male than female friends, so being surrounded by girls all the time wasn’t what I would have preferred. My personal choice would have been to attend a mixed-school. Girls can be quite fake and critical.”
As with Peter Tisdall, Higham’s proximity to an all-boys school offered her the opportunity to interact with the male students before and after school as well as at lunchtime.
However, specific interaction between the two schools was not directly encouraged or facilitated.
“The social element of school wasn’t brilliant however, as any social event organised by the convent was female only, and we didn’t get to interact with boys.”
As for bullying, like Peter Tisdall, Higham mentions that this eluded her in her school days. “Girls’ schools have a reputation for being quite nasty and vindictive, but I didn’t experience anything like that when I was in school. There might have been an element of bullying in first year, but as you grow up you get to know the girls you’re with a lot better, and there’s less and less cattiness. Everyone knew each other quite well.”
Despite saying it is “slightly alien” to be in a class with boys, Higham did not find coming to UCD that strange, as she notes that she has always socialised with boys.
Higham seconds Tisdall’s idea that for the easily distracted, single-sex schools may be the best option. However she expresses that for her, a mixed-sex schools would have been better than single-sex facilities.
She states that it depends entirely on the personality of the students.
“If you’re the type of person who is quiet, isn’t going to deviate from study too much, and wants to make friends, then mixed school would suit you better. In mixed education you seem to have much more of a social life as opposed to single-sex schools. If I had had a choice, I would have gone to a mixed school.”
First Arts student, Leah Johnstone admits that there are positive and negative aspects to being in single-sex education. The obvious positive is that it is a lot easier to focus on your studies.
“I worked well in a single-sex school, the fact that I’m in UCD now is a testament to that. I don’t think that I would have attended mixed-sex education if I had had the choice. Same-sex worked really well for me because I had to opportunity to really focus on doing well. I really felt I did better at my studies without the distraction of boys in my class.”
However, this said, Johnstone remarks that an all female environment can be “disheartening.”
“Boys tend to be more upfront and clear about things, whereas girls make snide remarks, and give you nasty looks from across a room. I remember one instance where a girl I knew got a group of her friends to threaten me, simply because I was a good friend of the boy that she liked. It was so petty and ridiculous because I wasn’t going to stop talking to one of my friends just because a girl tried to scare me.”
Leaving the confines of a single-sex school was not overly difficult for Johnstone, as she had socialised with boys outside of school. However, she explains that it did take some getting used to, stating “when you get into a gigantic lecture theatre with six-hundred people in it, and you realise half of them are boys’ it can be quite bizarre.”
Johnstone attributes her ease with the opposite sex to the fact that during school hours, there were chances to meet boys.
“We were lucky in that there was an all-boys’ school right down the road from us. We only saw them for a limited time in school though, as our lunchtimes had quite a small overlap.”
“If I had come from an all-girls’ school that was isolated from boys in a social sense, I’m sure that I would have found it hard to mix with them in a university environment.”
First Arts Student, Tony Mulligan agrees with Kate Higham when he states that mixed-sex education would have suited him better.
“I came to UCD from St Mel’s College in Longford. It was an all-boys diocesan college. There was a convent nearby but I imagine mixed-sex education would have been much better. I wouldn’t have said that single-sex education was terribly bad, but I would have preferred mixed.”
“Study was easy in a single-sex school. There wasn’t the distraction of having girls in your class. We weren’t alone with just boys as the convent was near, but it wasn’t the same.”
As Johnstone mentioned, Mulligan felt that if he had attended a boys’ school that was isolated and seperated from girls, his school experience would have been much worse.
Extra-curricular socialisation with the opposite sex is something which all interviewees maintained prevented them from feeling uncomfortable in the mixed-sex environment of UCD.
However, Mulligan notes, “I still felt that going to a same-sex school was detrimental to social development and set you back a few years. In my eyes, going to a co-educational school would have been so much better for me in a social sense.”