Mixed classes fail both sexes

7th September 2001 at 01:00

New report claims segregation leads to better results and behaviour for boys and girls. Geoff Maslen reports

SEGREGATION of boys and girls at school in Australia results in each sex achieving much higher results in their final secondary years, according to a new report.

Boys and girls in single-sex schools were also more likely to be better behaved and to find learning more enjoyable and the curriculum more relevant.

However, the findings triggered widespread debate and are contrary to previous research indicating that girls perform better in single-sex classrooms whereas boys do best in co-educational settings where the girls' behaviour improves theirs.

The report was prepared by the Australian Council for Educational Research. It says that the evidence suggests that co-educational settings are limited by their capacity to accommodate the large differences in cognitive, social and development growth rates of boys and girls aged between 12 and 16.

The findings were based on several studies, including an analysis over six years of the results in 58 subjects of 270,000 students in their last two years at school.

Much of the difference is also attributed to the "two-thirds rule" in co-educational classes. There, two-thirds of a teacher's time is said to be spent managing either the "ego-tripping behaviour of the boys" or the aggressive and assertive behaviour of the girls. Both behaviours result in less time being spent on learning.

The report says that in their teenage years, boys and girls are "out of synch" with each other because of differences in physiology and cognitive development. Girls mature earlier, yet in co-education classes they must cope with juvenile male "macho kind of behaviour".

But other researchers pointed out that differences in results between the sexes was much more complicated than simple gender. A lecturer in education at the University of Melbourne, John Quay, said that any level or type of diversity among students could influence the teacher's work.

"Some teachers have to contend with incredible levels of diversity. A secondary school at which I have recently been involved in research, reports 136 different languages spoken at home across the student body," said Dr Quay.

He said schools generally did not cope well with diversity. Teachers also had to contend with student diversity within institutional constraints which often valued uniformity and conformity: limitations that could create a practical paradox between caring for the individual and caring for the group.

"Smaller class sizes would seem to offer a very positive solution, enabling the welcoming of diversity as a route to a stronger community both within the school and beyond," he said.

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