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Wednesday, 23 August, 2000, 18:58 GMT 19:58 UK
Single sex classes 'not the answer'
girls celebrate after receiving A-level results
Girls on top: "Hype about nothing"?
A leading education expert has cast doubt on the view that single sex teaching could prove the solution to the underachievement of boys in the classroom.

Prof Jannette Elwood
Prof Elwood: "Why are boys turned off learning?"
Professor Jannette Elwood, of Queen's University, Belfast, says that while pilot single sex classes held in some schools have indicated that segregation boosts performance, not enough research has been done on the subject.

She points out that even if single sex teaching did improve results, it would raise the girls' achievement as well as that of boys - and the gap between the sexes would still remain.

"When are we going to be happy? When boys and girls achieve the same, and there is no gap?" she said.

Gender stereotypes

The aim should be to improve the performance of both sexes, not to concentrate on boys because of a perceived problem.

"There has been a lot of hype over nothing about the A-levels, all over 0.6%.

mixed pupils in class
Mixed classes work well for many students

"The fact is there are some very good boys and some very good girls, and if you break it down by subject it is very gender stereotyped, and boys are still doing better than girls in certain subjects."

The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, said on Sunday that he would be speaking to the Office for Standards in Education about evaluating the effectiveness of single sex teaching of some subjects in co-educational schools.

He will also order all local education authorities in England and Wales to provide progress reports outlining what they are doing to tackle boys' underachievement.

The announcement followed the publication of this year's A-level exams on Thursday, which showed that for the first time, girls are performing better than boys.

A breakdown the results statistics showed that the number of girls awarded A grades was 18.1%, up from 17.4%. The figure for boys was 17.5%, unchanged from last year.

Girls overtook boys at GCSE level a few years ago, and this year's results, to be published late on Wednesday, are expected to show that they girls are now doing better in almost every subject.

Ability, class and tradition

Last year, Prof Elwood, formerly of London University's Institute of Education, was co-author of a research report on the achievement of girls in single sex schools.

It suggested that girls' schools got good exam results because they had high-achieving pupils - not because they are single sex.

Ability as well as social class and the history and traditions of schools had a greater impact on the results girls achieved.

It indicated that whether a school was independent, selective or comprehensive made much more difference than whether it was single sex or mixed.

Speaking on Wednesday, Prof Elwood said she agreed with the government that there was an anti-education culture among teenage boys which needed to be addressed in order to improve their performance - but stressed that single sex teaching was not the magic solution.

"We need to get to the root of disaffection, why boys are turned off learning. That is the $64,000 question, to which I don't have the answer."

It was important to maintain equal opportunities for all in education, and not to focus on boys to the detriment of girls, she added.

See also:

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