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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 November, 2004, 15:59 GMT
Inquiry into single-sex learning
school lesson
Researchers are investigating gender-based teaching methods
The government is backing an inquiry into how secondary schooling can best meet boys' and girls' different needs.

It might mean more boys and girls in England being taught separately some of the time, even in mixed schools.

Results of a survey of best practice in schools will be used to discuss the best way to spread success.

The announcement was made by the School Standards Minister, David Miliband, at the independent Girls' Schools Association annual conference.

'Sterile debate'

The association represents more than 200 independent, single-sex schools in the UK.

The debate about whether single-sex or co-education is better is ultimately sterile
David Miliband
Mr Miliband said there was a similar number of girls-only state schools - educating about one seventh of all girls in the sector.

On Monday the association's president had said it made her "mad" when people dismissed single-sex education.

Mr Miliband said: "I believe there is a bright future for our single-sex schools, but I also believe that the debate about whether single-sex or co-education is better is ultimately sterile."

The debate should be about applying the lessons of single-sex education in the co-education sector, recognising the differences between pupils as well as the similarities.

Replicating success

So he had agreed that the Secondary Heads Association, which has members in both sectors, should survey them "on best practice in tailoring school organisation to girls' and boys' different needs".

"We can then disseminate the results to promote informed professional dialogue about the best way to replicate the successes of single-sex education in the maintained sector," the minister said.

The shadow education secretary, Tim Collins, said: "Yet another plank in Labour's 'one size fits all' approach to education appears to have broken away.

"A Conservative government would leave it to the good sense of head teachers and their professional colleagues to determine whether boys and girls should be taught in single-sex or mixed classes for all or some subjects in their curriculum."

Academics at the University of Cambridge's faculty of education are completing a four-year research project on the issue.

They have looked at a co-educational comprehensive school, where single sex teaching has been used in subjects where gender was sometimes seen as influencing underperformance, such as languages for boys and maths for girls.

The evidence is "startling", Mr Miliband said.

Girls' 'revolution'

Both boys and girls have done better, and the gender gap usually common at GCSE level - in girls' favour - was "negligible".

Pupils said they felt more confident about participating in lessons, there were fewer distractions and they did not feel the need to show off.

The only way to give them the best possible education is to treat each child as an individual
Brendan MacLean, Birmingham

But there were also examples of boys and girls helping each other, such as at Notley High School in Essex.

There, a seating arrangement which paired up girls and boys had been seen as a way to improve boys' performance. But after seven years, girls' achievement had improved too.

Mr Miliband said there had been "a revolution in educational achievement" over the last 30 years, with girls "primary drivers and beneficiaries".

In the early 1970s, less than half the pupils getting five good GCSEs or two A-levels were girls and only a third of those going on to university.

That was "not because they lacked the brains, but because they lacked the opportunities".

Now, girls accounted for 60% of those getting the equivalent of five good GCSEs and 55% of those with two A-levels - while more than half of those going into higher education were female.

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28 Feb 04 |  Education

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