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'Stressful success' for co-ed girls

Girls do not suffer academically in Irish co-educational schools, according to the preliminary results of a major study. It did, however, find evidence of greater stress among girls in co-ed than in single-sex schools.

More than 10,000 pupils in 116 schools and more than 1,200 school-leavers were questioned in research which also compared the academic performance of girls in different types of schools. The study was carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute for the Education Ministry. The ministry was concerned at other studies which suggested that girls did better in single-sex schools.

A leaked draft of the latest work claims that many of these studies failed to take into account differences in social class and ability intake between the schools. "When these controls are introduced, much of the achievement difference disappears although gender differentiation in subject take-up remains strong in non-traditional subjects."

The study did find higher levels of stress among girls than among boys at the Leaving Certificate stage. The stress was found in all types of schools but the report says that it seems coeducation has a statistically significant negative effect on stress levels among girls.

Similarly, boys in co-educational schools tend to be somewhat more stressed than their counterparts in single-sex schools, although the effects of co- education here are not statistically significant.

Co-education also seems to have a negative impact on pupils' perception of their appearance and attractiveness among both boys and girls.

More positively, there was some evidence to suggest that co-education reduces stereotyping in boys' gender role expectations. This may be linked to both the closer interaction and subsequently greater understanding of girls' roles, as well as the potentially greater availability of non-traditional subjects in co-educational schools.

The study also found that girls in general are much more involved than boys in household labour such as making one's bed, preparing meals and cleaning up after meals. But co-education tends to be associated with increased domestic labour for both boys and girls.

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