Education: Segregation denies a stage to show-offs

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BOYS and girls at Moulsham High School in Chelmsford, Essex, are used to going their separate ways back to the classroom after break.

The co-ed state school has taught single-sex lessons for the past 20 years. Pupils learn separately in all subjects during their first three years, and then in maths, science and English until GCSE. According to Dr Chris Nicholls, the head, the gap between the girls and boys had always been negligible until last year when there was a particularly able group of girls.

The system is very popular with parents and most pupils approve, too. Jack Mason, 11, said learning without the girls was better because 'you get on with your work more'. Nicholas Shuter, 13, thought boys tended to show off when there were girls around. 'There's a bit of being a lad in it, mucking around,' he said. Ben Fuller, 16, said: 'The girls must be distracted by the boys trying to show off. If they are separate then they have nothing to prove.' But Jenny White, 16, thought that if they were mixed from the start, they would get used to each other and not need to show off.

Alan Newton, head of English, said teaching boys separately removed 'any possibility of male peacockery' and meant that English was not perceived as a girls' subject. 'We try to counter assumptions by doing Macbeth with the girls and Romeo and Juliet with the boys. The boys respond very well to love poetry because they are worried about relationships.' The disadvantage was that boys had 'an inflated view of their own ability' and missed out on the high standards that girls injected. Both sexes in a subject like English missed out on the other's experience.