BACK in the mists of time, when I was a schoolboy – yes I can still vaguely remember those days – we still had the 11 plus exam.

The good souls tasked with our junior school education were keen to tell us it wasn’t a ‘pass or fail’ exam but was simply a means of identifying what sort of secondary education would best suit each individual.

The theory was that state funded education was to be arranged into a structure containing three types of school: grammar school, secondary technical school (sometimes described as ‘Technical Grammar’ schools) and secondary modern school.

To be honest, not all education authorities implemented the so-called tripartite system and for some reason, it was the technical schools that were the least popular (how short-sighted a decision that seems now).

As a result, many local authorities had only two types of secondary school, the grammar and the secondary modern with the outcome that the 11 plus exam, no matter how egalitarian the intentions, became very much a pass or fail exam.

I didn’t want to pass the 11 plus for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the chances of my mates passing was slim and I wanted to go to the same school as them.

Secondly, as a Catholic living in a town without a Catholic grammar school, passing would have meant travelling out of town to go to school every day.

And thirdly, and to my adolescent mind most importantly, all the grammar schools available to me were single sex, hence no girls. The local secondary moderns were all co-educational which seemed a much better prospect to me.

I approached my 11 plus with a certain amount of disdain but once I sat down with my freshly-sharpened HB pencil, my inherent competitiveness kicked in and I actually wanted to rise to the challenge and pass.

Which I did.

I then spent the next seven years of my educational life getting up at the crack of dawn to trawl half way across the county to be taught by very strict Catholic brothers in an all-boys school.

It wasn’t the brightest or best decision I have made in my life.

This was in the heady days of the 1960s and since, in most parts of the country, grammar schools have been phased out and replaced with the one-size-fits-all, co-educational comprehensive schools.

But this move subsequently sparked an interesting debate which raised its head again last week – are our youngsters better served by being taught in single-sex or mixed schools?

And uncharacteristically for me, I don’t know what the answer is.

However, I do understand the arguments for and against.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Richard Cairns head of the independent school Brighton College, said: “Open any school prospectus and you’ll see the same vision outlined: to prepare children for adult life, both academically and socially. And yet, some people still seem to believe this can be achieved in the artificial environment of a single-sex school. I find it curious.

“Whether you’re starting a degree or embarking on a career, it’s obviously vital that you’re able to get on with people of both genders.

“Recent research published in the American journal Science suggests that women who attended single-sex colleges were ‘compromised in the workplace as their ability to network and cooperate with men was inhibited’.”

He went on to argue that mixed schools are much kinder places with little of the emotional intensity that bedevils girls’ schools and often leads to bullying.

So far so good then. Mixed schools are kinder and point the way to a successful future.

But wait, if you look just up the road from here at our neighbours in Trafford – which has one of the best educational records in the country – many of the independent schools there are still single sex and show remarkable academic performances.

And why is that?

Over to Helen Fraser, chief executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust, the UK’s leading network of independent girls’ schools.

She says: “Extensive studies have shown that, for a variety of reasons, girls’ learning needs are simply different from boys’.

“In the classroom, girls tend to prefer cooperative, discussion-based learning, focused on real-world scenarios. They’re usually better equipped to plan and organise their work, and take well to projects, too.

“There will always be exceptions but on the whole, in a mixed classroom, boys tend to dominate discussions. Girls, meanwhile, are inclined to hold back.

“If giving girls the opportunity to be free of gender stereotyping and associated pressure is unnatural, I for one am glad that single-sex schools are rewriting the rules.”

Well that’s solved that little problem then. I would be genuinely interested to know what you think.