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Boys 'should sit next to girls'

Boys should be made to sit next to girls to improve their exam results, according to new research.

Findings published in the wake of the Government's report on boys' underachievment back the strategy which would stop boys being influenced by their peers, researchers say.

Alan Evans, research consultant to the School of Education at the University of Wales, Cardiff, speaking in Bradford at the North of England education conference, said the approach was supported by evidence from his own study of 29 schools and HM inspectors' surveys.

He said that by the age of nine boys are turned off literature and the arts. It is part of their culture to find learning "un-cool".

And while girls have broken through in subjects such as maths, technology and geography - which have traditionally been boys' subjects - boys have not yet stormed the citadel of literature and modern languages. Boys' performance has improved year on year, but they are being outstripped by girls.

Girls, he said, are better listeners and better organised. If boys sat next to them they would be free from distraction from their peers and would benefit from their example.

Teachers' attitudes to boys are also blamed. Boys may have two-thirds of their teachers' attention in class time, but, for every five comments made, four are negative. When asked, 70 per cent of girls found their teachers' attitudes fair, whereas only 46 per cent of boys did.

Mr Evans said: "There should be rigorous baseline testing for new pupils and equal opportunity programmes to challenge stereotyping of boys."

A separate study from educationist Patricia Murphy, of the Open University, and Janette Elwood, from the Institute of Education, attributed the achievement gap to the toys children played with and the way they were raised by their parents.

According to the academics, the sexes develop different ways of responding to the world and making sense of it, which influence what and how they learn.

They also claim that comparing the performance of the sexes at GCSE in different subject areas is flawed because it takes no account of the tiers at which pupils are entered for examinations.

They also believe that the academic gap between boys and girls may not be as great as is thought because teachers often misinterpret boys' work and behaviour as negative, compared with girls who are more conscientious and compliant in the classroom.

However, the desire of girls to please their teachers and get things right can make their work appear mediocre and lacking sparkle.

North of England education conference, page 5

The problems with boys, page 8

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