Charisma the key to success at university

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Students who went to single-sex schools find it no more difficult to adjust to university life than those who went to co-educational ones, says a new report.

Judith Judd, Education Editor, describes a study which confounds both the supporters of co-education and the champions of single-sex schools.

Conventional wisdom has it that single-sex schools are better for academic work but that co-education is a better preparation for life. According to researchers from Brunel University, neither is true.

They questioned 100 first-year university students and found that students' personalities were much more important than the type of school they attended in determining how well they settled in.

The challenges of cooking, washing and learning to study more independently loomed much larger than coping with the opposite sex.

Boarding school proved to be no better preparation for university life than day school. Only a gap year and A-level results had any significant effect on the ease with which they adjusted to their new lives. The gap- year students found returning to work more difficult than their peers, but settling in to their new lifestyle slightly easier. Those with better A-level grades found it it more difficult to settle in.

High-performing students may be more aware of the difficulties than their peers, suggest Professor Alan Smithers and Dr Pamela Robinson, the study's authors. Or they may find it less easy to get on with fellow students.

Some of the students from girls' schools did admit that it was odd having boys around but most "anticipated difficulties which did not arise". One said she found it "refreshing to be around boys rather than girls, because I found even though academically I benefited from single-sex education, it gets very bitchy if it's just girls".

Yet the study also questions the notion that young people necessarily get better results in single-sex schools. A study published two years ago by Professor Smithers found that, though single-sex schools topped the examination league tables, their success derived from their intake and traditions rather than the fact that they were single-sex.

A further study looking at the performance of girls and boys in different types of schools, based on the 1997 GCSE and A-level results, produced complicated findings. At GCSE, girls in co-educational independent schools appear to do slightly better than those in single-sex independent schools.

At A-level, girls' performance does not appear to be affected by a single- sex or mixed school. And, though boys' single-sex selective schools are ahead of all other types of school, this is at least partly thanks to the fact that they are even more highly selective than other schools.

l A-level exams should be scrapped in favour of a Scottish Highers- style system, head teachers said yesterday. The A-level system, which encourages pupils to study just three subjects, is out of date and does not prepare youngsters for the world of work, the National Association of Head Teachers says.