The Power of Coeducation

The Annenberg Theatre hosted one of the great whole-school events of the year on Friday evening, as a significant majority of Wellingtonians either took part in or watched – in person or via the live-stream – the House Dance competition. It was a roaring success and, in so many different ways, showcased Wellington at its absolute best. Entirely pupil-led, some of the performances would not have been out of place in the Speech Day tent and the sense of mutual support across Houses and year groups was palpable. Anyone who has watched the video I shared on Twitter of the audience’s response to Benedict King’s solo tap-dance (which now has over 1000 views!) will understand what I mean. Talk about the College value of courage.

I am often asked to argue in favour of coeducation by prospective parents or at prep school events. There are so many benefits of educating girls and boys alongside each other during the teenage years, but one of the most powerful arguments is to be found in the constant breaking down of gender stereotypes which is only possible in mixed school environments. It is a source of great pride to me that so many boys at Wellington feel perfectly comfortable with dancing on stage in front of an audience of 700+ people and how wonderful it was to see four of Friday’s six awards given to boys’ Houses. The Hill and the Lynedoch group dances were just brilliant, but I was most moved by the Talbot’s small group duet in which Alex (Third Form) and William (Sixth Form) produced a performance of genuine terpsichorean power and pathos. What courage again!

October 2019 also marks 40 years since girls were first permitted to become cadets within the College’s Combined Cadet Force (CCF) and, through no specific strategic design, it just so happens that this year’s senior cadets in the Royal Navy, Army, and RAF sections are all girls. I was very proud in 2017 when Abby Pape (OW Apsley) was appointed captain of the Field Gun team, and I am thrilled that so many girls are holding leadership positions in what has traditionally been a highly masculine area of school life. How times have changed…and for the better too.

I often think about what I want for my own daughter by the time that she is 18 and about to leave school. Exam results which truly reflect her academic ability? A given. A broader co-curriculum which has allowed her to develop talents and discover passions which will remain with her for the rest of her life? Definitely. An understanding that she can pursue any of her dreams and strive for anything in life regardless of gender or identity? Absolutely.

And it is this last point which makes coeducational schools such powerful crucibles in which to educate young people in the 21st century. Every week, Wellingtonians see gender stereotypes being broken down and this has to be for the benefit of both the College and also every pupil. This is the power of coeducation.

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