'Everyone knows boys don't do as well as girls, we need higher expectations of them'

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The Independent Online

Small slips of paper bearing remarkable GCSE results were being brandished in the battle of the sexes at Moulsham High School in Chelmsford, Essex, yesterday. An excited huddle of teenagers were using them as ammunition in the annual debate about whether girls truly are the superior sex when it comes to academic studies.

Small slips of paper bearing remarkable GCSE results were being brandished in the battle of the sexes at Moulsham High School in Chelmsford, Essex, yesterday. An excited huddle of teenagers were using them as ammunition in the annual debate about whether girls truly are the superior sex when it comes to academic studies.

"We all know girls mature two years faster than boys," said Claire Farmer, a rather sleek and sophisticated 16-year-old.

"That's not true," retorted a lanky young man with fluorescent green hair. "You've only heard that."

Gerard Kemp had good reason to defend his gender. With seven A*s, four As and one B to his name, his GCSE grades easily beat his opponent's.

His success may have been due to an unusual system which operates at Moulsham.

In their formative years, the school's 1,600 pupils are separated by sex as well as ability. From the age of 15 they integrate for many classes while remaining apart in English, Maths and Science lessons.

At a time when girls are consistently outshining boys at GCSEs and A-levels, Moulsham has become a focus of considerable interest. Researchers from Cambridge's Homerton College have been observing the school's teaching methods for the past 18 months and are expected to publish the results later this year.

The announcement that girls nationwide had maintained almost a 10 per cent lead over boys will no doubt fuel the debate about introducing single-sex teaching. Moulsham, however, has been operating that way for more than two decades.

On his wall, the headmaster, Chris Nicholls, has a row of diagrams charting the success of his methods. This year, 68.4 per cent of his GCSE class achieved five grades between A* and C, approximately 20 per cent above the national average, though his girls mirror the UK trend by outshining the boys (73.5 per cent to 64.2 per cent). The bar graph projections for coming years are even more ambitious.

"Everybody knows boys don't do as well, even the boys," said Mr Nicholls. "We need to get back to having higher expectations for them."

Contrary to popular wisdom, boys and girls do not need to be kept apart when they are older, he argued, but at a younger, more vulnerable age, before being gradually integrated.

Girls, he said, develop social skills far earlier. Their ability to communicate and co-operate in a team becomes more honed. "Boys become very aware of girls and their capabilities," he said. "They feel less threatened in single-sex classes."

Once separated, the boys are less likely to feel they are under-achieving and so they don't act up to the stereotype by misbehaving.

"What we need is a greater awareness and understanding of how boys and girls learn," he said. "For example, boys love being tested on the spot, marked on the spot. Next week is a lifetime away for them." Girls, however, have a greater attention span and are more likely to appreciate a longer exam and wait patiently for the results to be marked.

But the most important thing is not to give up on the boys during their disruptive years. "There is a world of difference between saying, 'You are an idiot,' and saying, 'You have done something idiotic,'" he said.

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