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Friday, May 14, 1999 Published at 00:02 GMT 01:02 UK


Education

Closing the school gender gap

Sitting boys with girls discourages "laddish" behaviour

Boys learn faster if they sit next to girls at school, according to a study.

A three-year research project at Notley High School in Braintree, Essex, found that a boy-girl seating plan reduced the achievement gap between the sexes.

One of its findings was that a culture of "laddism" among the boys led to hostility towards those who were seen to be clever. The impact of this could be reduced by splitting up groups of boys.

The project was set up to discover why girls achieve better exam results than their male counterparts, an issue which has troubled educationalists across the UK.

Notley High School's girl pupils consistently achieved exam results above the national average, while boys performed in line with average trends.

The school's headteacher, John Hartley, said boys and girls had different learning styles.

"In the main, boys tend to be risk takers, better at speculating, and think obliquely to reach a conclusion.

"Girls remain at their tasks better and for longer than boys. They are better at sorting information, analysing it carefully, and writing it all down in a logical way."

'Respect clever students'

In a well directed classroom where boys sat next to girls, these skills could be transferred so that both sexes would benefit, he said.

"We are also working on encouraging boys to respect rather than ridicule clever students. Even boys towards the laddish end are pleased when they are praised for their work."

The school set up a boy-girl seating arrangement in all classes for 13- to 15-year-olds, which it says has already produced some improvements in boys' work.

It could be expanded next year to cover all except the youngest of the schools 800 pupils.

Mr Hartley said: "What it has done is to emphasise that the teacher is in charge of where the pupil sits, rather than let them sit in friendship groups. They know they are there to learn."

The school studied the gender gap for three years with the help of Essex County Council's school advisory and inspection service.

A report on its findings has been sent to every school in Essex.





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