By Marilena Moriconi, Notre Dame For All

IT was with great interest that I read last month’s Agenda article from my former neighbour, Liz Cameron, defending the admissions policy of Scotland’s last state-funded single-sex school, Notre Dame High in Glasgow.

I have much in common with Baillie Cameron: we both lived on Byres Road for years; both come from ordinary working-class families; both attended Notre Dame High; and like her father, my uncle was a hard-working, talented piano tuner.

But here our similarities end.

I believe Baillie Cameron unfairly misrepresents the reasons why hundreds of parents, like myself, consider the time has come for our local secondary school to open its doors to all children, regardless of their gender.

Baillie Cameron attended Notre Dame High decades ago, calling it a haven for girls of different backgrounds. If she walks into most Glasgow schools – including Notre Dame Primary just down the road – she will also find a haven for children of different backgrounds: of many different cultures, faiths/no faith, languages, needs, social-economic background and, crucially, of both genders. Notre Dame Primary is a flourishing, inclusive learning community where children do not experience state discrimination until the doors of their local High School are firmly slammed shut on half of them – just because of gender.

Baillie Cameron, to use her own words, “wilfully ignores” the fact that preventing children from accessing education solely because of their gender can be nothing other than gender discrimination. If keeping children out of a state-funded school based on gender isn’t discrimination, then what exactly is it? She argues that, by excluding boys, Notre Dame High helps girls from under-privileged areas. She overlooks the fact that if Notre Dame High were to accept boys, under-privileged boys would also have access to the school. Furthermore, it is not true that all children from Notre Dame Primary come from affluent families: one in five pupils at Notre Dame Primary are entitled to free school meals, significantly higher than many neighbouring primary schools.

Baillie Cameron appears to believe that gender is so fundamentally divisive that a single-gender education is the only way for girls to achieve equality. In 21st century Scotland, surely the best way to teach our children about inclusion, appreciating diversity, and treating everyone as equals, is for them to learn and grow together? That means pulling down gender barriers, not building them. My 11-year -old daughter is baffled by the “boy ban”. In her word: “Why can’t my brothers go to the High School too? Aren’t boys and girls equal?” What lessons does the single-gender policy of Notre Dame High School teach our children?

To suggest that Notre Dame High would be ruined if it became co-educational is doing a disservice to the skills and professionalism of staff at the school, as if they would be unable to successfully teach boys and girls together like every other secondary in Scotland. When no other local authority in Scotland deems it necessary or appropriate, why is Glasgow sacrificing children’s equality for what amounts to no more than all-girls nostalgia?

I think back to when Liz Cameron was my neighbour. My sisters and I attended Notre Dame High; we lived in the West End but were an ordinary single-parent family who were far from affluent. We were lucky to be educated locally, together, but what if we had been boys? Would we have been undeserving of Notre Dame High? Would it have been right to exclude us?

In 2018 we want all children to succeed. Notre Dame High should be a place “where future generations” of all children are allowed to flourish.