Help for the boys helps the girls

1st June 2001 at 01:00
New classroom strategies aimed at improving boys' performance are benefiting girls even more. Julie Henry reports

GIRLS are benefiting more than their male classmates from schools' attempts to boost boys' performance, government research suggests.

A number of measures have been put in place by schools to try to overturn the long tail of boys' underachievement. Single-sex classes, mentoring, monitoring, splitting up boys in class, more male teachers and different teaching techniques are all being employed in an attempt to boost boys' performance.

But while results for both sexes are improving, the Department for Education and Employment's own analysis shows that girls seem to be gaining more from the strategies that schools have adopted than the boys they are aimed at.

A department spokeswoman said: "Girls tend to end up benefiting a little bit more, so the gap is moved rather than closed." The spokeswoman said the collating and monitoring of data was in the early stages, and would not elaborate further.

The Government analysis mirrors findings from other studies into the effectiveness of schools' attempts to close the gender gap.

Researchers from Manchester University surveyed pupils and teachers and compared exam results at five mixed schools which segregated foreign languages classes.

The proportion of boys achieving a good GCSE pass from the single-sex class was 68 per cent, compared to 33 per cent of boys in mixed classes. However, in the all-girls class, 89 per cent gained an A to C grade, 41 percentage points higher than their peers in mixed groups.

At Moulsham high school, Chelmsford, pupils are separated for all key stage 3 classes and KS4 English, maths and science. Teachers are encouraged to have structured teaching in boys' classes, while girls are left to work more independently.

Headteacher Chris Nichol said: "Everything we have done has raised girls' achievement as well. The gap has remained - in fact it has increased slightly since the early days of GCSE, but our five A to C grades for boys and girls is around 70 per cent, well above the national average.

"This quest for the holy grail of closing the gap is not the issue. If my boys' results jump 10 per cent this year and girls go up by 15 per cent, I'll be celebrating."

A recent study of eight Scottish primary schools found early intervention to boost boys' performance, such as greater targeting of classroom assistants, had done little to close the gap between attainment levels.

While literacy and numeracy scores for both groups progressed, the Angus Council report found that girls achieved higher scores than boys and better results than were predicted.

Colin Noble, education director at Kirklees LEA which has been concentrating on raising boys' achievement since 1999, said: "Good teaching that keeps boys focused paradoxically means less distraction and more attention for girls."

Boys and literacy, 28


* In tests for seven-year-olds, 10 per cent more girls than boys achieved level 2 or better in reading, writing and spelling last year. A similar gender gap has been apparent for the last six years.

* At key stage 2, 10 per cent more girls than boys reached level 4 in English. In maths and science similar numbers of boys and girls achieved level 4. More boys reached level 5 in maths, but for the first time last year girls moved ahead of boys in level 5 science.

* At 14 the gap between boys and girls achieving the expected level in English has increased to 17 per cent. Maths and science show similar attainment levels.

* Last year, 10 per cent more girls than boys achieved five A to C grades at GCSE. Girls perform markedly better in English.

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