Single-sex schools continue to outperform co-ed – and boys are closing the gap

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Boys’ schools in New South Wales have achieved more top-tier HSC marks than at any time in the past five years. The results show a steady catch-up to their all-girls counterparts, with higher student success rates recorded across all sectors.

A new analysis of 2023 HSC data for NSW students reveals the gap between the average number of top scores achieved by students at all-boys and all-girls schools is closing – and boys at single-sex public schools have achieved the biggest gains.

The release of the results – which only reflect top band six results – may add fuel to the fire of the debate that has raged about plans by some of Sydney’s single-sex state schools and high-fee private boys’ institutions to make the switch to co-education.

All-girls’ schools still ahead

2023 HSC average success rates show that, of the top 300 schools in the state, all-girls institutions still outperform boys’ schools overall. The gap between the two, though, is shrinking.

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Across public boys’ schools in NSW, the median success rate of 13.5 per cent has climbed from 9.8 per cent five years ago and is now overtaking girls. By comparison, the success rate for co-ed schools has risen slightly in 2023 to 9.2 per cent.

Within the Catholic and private school sectors in the state, all-boys school success rates continue to rise, while girls’ schools and co-ed schools are holding steady.

The annual rankings are based on schools that have at least 150 entries in HSC courses based on their success rate of getting band sixes or marks over 90. Education authorities release limited data for students who score in the top performance band – and this skews the rankings to academically selective and wealthy Sydney private schools.

In 2023, Northern Beaches Secondary College Balgowlah Boys Campus and Willoughby Girls were the top-performing comprehensive state schools, while North Sydney Boys was the top-ranked school. Reddam House – a co-education school in Bondi – placed first among private schools.

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Girls achieve higher median ATAR

This year’s median ATAR in NSW was 71.05, with boys scoring an average ATAR of 70, and girls scoring 71.9.

NAPLAN results also show girls outperformed boys in literacy and numeracy in most year groups in 2023, while around 40 per cent of Year nine boys failed to meet proficiency in reading and grammar tests.

Push for public co-ed education continues

In October this year, the NSW state government announced expanded access to public co-ed high schools. It’s a move that marked a significant win for parents who had campaigned for more schooling options. But for other parents, the confirmation that Randwick Girls and Boys High would merge into one co-educational school from 2025 was met with backlash from parents and students who believe joining the two schools will benefit education outcomes for boys at the expense of girls.

The decision for historic boys’ school Newington College to end 160 years of tradition by moving to co-education prompted a threatened legal battle over its decision to admit girls, with many alumni withdrawing bequests to the school in protest.

To some educators, single-sex schooling is seen as the best option. At Brigidine girls’ school in Randwick, where 58 per cent of students achieved a 90-plus mark in English advanced courses, principal Sharyn Quirk told media she was a strong advocate for girls’ schooling.

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“I think there is a swing towards co-ed, but when I talk to parents many feel there are benefits to girls’ schools, including having fewer distractions,” she said.

“As for our English results, that is down to incredible teachers, and the girls having that drive, interest and desire to improve their learning and think critically.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]