Benefits of Parallel Learning

The new approach offering students the best of both worlds

Never before has choosing a school that will best fit your child been more intense. There seems an ever-increasing list of factors to consider. For most parents, the single biggest dilemma is this: will a single-sex or coeducational school suit my child best? But imagine if you didn't have to choose. One Brisbane school did, and the solution emerged, brilliant in its simplicity. It's called Parallel Learning – and it promises the best of both worlds.

How it works

Under the Parallel Learning model, students enjoy all the benefits of coeducation through their Primary Years. In Years 7 to 9 they learn in separate streams for girls and boys, transitioning back through Year 10 to fully coeducational classes for Years 11 and 12. In essence, it provides gender-specific teaching when it matters the most for students, with all the social advantages of a coeducational campus throughout their entire school journey.

Why it works

"One of the things that's really important is that if students are feeling good, and they're functioning well, they get really great results." says Dr. Andrew Cousins, Principal of Brisbane's Clayfield College. "It's well documented, particularly in middle schooling, that the social emotional and academic development of all students is quite different. For me, Parallel Learning means we can tailor the pastoral and academic provisions more sensitively, in an environment that removes the gender stereotype. This allows students to develop a strong sense that they're known, belong, and be the best version of themselves." Clayfield College’s Deputy Principal and Head of Primary, Mrs. Audrey Fellowes, said that at an age when students are experiencing so much physical, emotional and social change, having separate classes enables them to pause and focus more clearly on the task at hand. “As students pass from childhood into their teen years, they not only change physically but their feelings and emotions in regard to other genders can be challenging for them; therefore, having that space during class time to concentrate without distraction can be helpful for students."

Striking a balance

Since announcing it will move to the unique Parallel Learning model in 2023, the College – traditionally a co-ed primary and all-girls senior school – has received an increased level of enrolment queries. A sign that the school is striking the right balance. Mrs. Fellowes said the transition has given families, especially those starting in Pre-Prep, the assurance their child will have a complete holistic journey throughout their school years. "It's been really wonderful to be able to offer this to our families and what's lovely is that just as many all-girl families are interested in the new model because they also want that co-ed interaction." "There's obviously gender stereotypes that start to play out more noticeably in Years 7 to 10," said Dr. Cousins. "There are embedded societal expectations and conventions that students unfortunately can start to believe. So by bringing those differences together, it helps students to understand themselves as individuals and what that means in the context of the broader society, which will assist in preparing for life beyond school."

Preparing for life

The College takes a very intentional approach to its whole school wellbeing framework, Care@Clayfield. Mrs. Fellowes said this provides a solid base to enrich the program for boys. "The beauty of having a strong co-ed primary is that you get those different perspectives on life from boys and girls and now we can carry them through, obviously tweaking certain personal development classes that relate specifically to each gender." Another important part of the transition for Clayfield will be ensuring there are adequate mentor and role-model opportunities for boys. Students in Years 6 to 12 already interact each morning in coeducational House Groups. Dr. Cousins said the College is also fortunate to have a high percentage of male teachers. "We're also part of a PMSA (Presbyterian and Methodist Schools Association) which includes three other schools – one of which is a boys' school and one which is co-ed, so there are many opportunities to incorporate male role models and peer support," he said.

Nuts and bolts

In practical terms, Dr. Cousins said the move to a Parallel Learning model would change little in terms of the curriculum and co-curriculum subjects already offered, with subtle differences in the emphasis and context of the material being taught. "A good teacher will always adjust their style for individual students, so it just comes back to good classroom practise and offering a range of opportunities for all students," he said. "We're constantly looking at how we can provide the greatest exposure to students to really find their passion – whether it's technology, food, languages, music or arts for example, it's already very inclusive anyway. But we are looking at opportunities to grow in terms of sport, and already making connections with other schools about interschool programs. What's important to me is looking at what sports the senior boys will want and again where we can tailor to their individual interests."

The right choice

In this complex world when we are constantly teaching our kids to make good choices, it's nice to know there is a beacon of light for when parents need to make the right choice for their kids – one that offers the best of both worlds.

To learn more about the Parallel Learning model and how you can be confident you are giving your child the best of both worlds, join us at an upcoming tour