Girls buck trend with poor results

Bob Arthur

A school in west Wales wants to teach boys and girls separately - because the girls are under-achieving. While nationally, girls continue to outperform their male classmates at GCSE, at Pembroke secondary the reverse appears to be true, especially in maths and science.

Frank Ciccotti, headteacher, has consulted parents about the plans. And from September, half of the 240-strong Year 8 group will be taught in single-sex classes for English, maths, science, history and design technology - around half their weekly timetable.

Teachers are being asked to adjust their methods accordingly. Boys can expect more competitive, practical and time-limited activities and close monitoring of their presentation and completion of work. Girls are to be rewarded for participation in discussion and co-operative activities, and for taking risks academically.

The Women in Science and Engineering campaign (WISE) claims that girls develop more positive attitudes towards science subjects in single-sex lessons. And, without the boys hogging equipment and showing off during practicals, they gain confidence in hands-on work.

In guidance published earlier this year, WISE said some boys as well as girls preferred single-sex lessons.

In Pembrokeshire, the pass rate for five good GCSEs for both boys and girls is virtually the same as for Wales as a whole. The girls lead, though - by 58 to 46 per cent.

At Pembroke school last year, 33 per cent of girls and 38 per cent of boys got at least a grade C in maths, but in Wales as a whole, girls did better than boys by four percentage points. In science, the Pembroke boys were 13 percentage points ahead (41 to 28 per cent), compared to a two-point lead for the girls nationally.

"Historically there is an under-achievement by girls here. It is difficult to understand why," said Mr Ciccotti. "Other schools have found that by splitting classes into single-sex groups there have been marked improvements, particularly in science and maths.

"Initiatives in education can sound like good wheezes but this appears to have a sound basis."

The main concern is that splitting classes could create difficult groups of low-attaining boys. The school has previously experimented, unsuccessfully, with single-sex classes at GCSE and concluded that by 15 it was too late to make a difference. But Mr Ciccotti is confident the initiative will work if introduced earlier.

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Bob Arthur

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