Conflicting evidence over single-sex success

25th August 2000 at 01:00

SEPARATING boys and girls for English and science has been the key to raising pupil performance at a co-educational technology college in north London.

Mill Hill county high school has run single-sex classes since 1994 and believes that its unique combination of mixed and single-sex tuition has boosted pupil performance.

Since then the number of pupils getting five good GCSE passes has risen from 40 per cent to 79 per cent in the six years since the scheme was introduced.

The project grew out of concerns that 20 per cent fewer girls than boys achieved a C grade or above in science GCSE. After the introduction of single-sex science lessons, girls have significantly narrowed the gap. Almost all of the school's GCSE science classes are now single-sex, apart from a mixed class in each year which makes up the numbers.

In English, the school faced the opposite problem, with boys trailing behind the girls.

The first all-boys English class was formed in 1995, with the remaining male pupils spread evenly among the mixed classes, ensuring that girls always made up the majority in these.

In the mixed classes, the different learning styles of girls and boys are recognised: boys are allowed to study books that better reflect their interests.

The school says it is too early to conclude that the single-sex experiment has produced a long-term rise in exam results, but headteacher Alan Davison is certain that it has improved classroom behaviour.

Dr Davison said: "Men and women's brains are different and it is crucial that we in education recognise that.

"Girls are more language-based and boys are more speculative. It is innate.

"But the data so far is inconclusive. I believe that totally single-sex education is damaging because you are not getting the other experience, just one learning style.

"With a mixture of learning styles, boys get the reflective aspect and girls the speculative. The best way for girls to learn to be speculatie is from the natural speculators - boys. You need a mixture."


THE tactics of Notley high school, Braintree, fly in the face of the hotly-contested view that boys do better in male-only classes: it has improved boys' results by making them learn in mixed pairs.

Boys have improved their performance at GCSE since being forced to sit next to girls in lessons at the comprehensive in Essex.

The school says it has seen dramatic improvements since it banned boys from sitting together two years ago.

The school was concerned that, although its female students achieved above the national average, its male pupils were below average.

In 1996 only 32 per cent of boys achieved at least five C grades at GCSE compared with 57 per cent of girls. Last summer, after the boy-girl seating system was introduced, 44 per cent of boys scored five good passes compared to 59 per cent of girls.

All pupils aged 12 to 16 must now sit next to a classmate of the opposite sex in every lesson. Their neighbour is dubbed their learning partner and staff carefully plan who should work together in the pairs, which are reshuffled at least once a term.

Headteacher John Hartley believes that the new seating arrangements have improved the learning atmosphere in every lesson.

He said: "Boys and girls tend to have different learning styles. Boys tend to be risk-takers and lateral thinkers and often have shorter attention spans.

"Girls stick at their tasks for longer, have strong reflective and analytic skills and are more literate.

"A skilled teacher can make use of the seating arrangement to transfer learning skills between the sexes. They both have strengths and can learn from each other."

But there is no one answer to the complex problem of boys' under-achievement, Mr Hartley added.

"We did a lot of research before we introduced our programme. This is what works for our school - it would not necessarily be suitable for anyone else's."

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