Single-sex classes are backed by academics

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The Independent Online

Children should be taught some subjects in single-sex classes within mixed schools to help overcome the "laddish" culture that stops boys learning, a government research project has concluded.

Children should be taught some subjects in single-sex classes within mixed schools to help overcome the "laddish" culture that stops boys learning, a government research project has concluded.

Teaching boys and girls separately for some subjects can help them concentrate better and achieve higher exam results because they no longer need to show off in front of the opposite sex, the study by Cambridge University academics concluded.

The study was commissioned by the Department for Education in 2000 amid fears that a "laddish anti-learning culture" was seeing boys fall further behind girls. Every year girls perform better than boys, with few signs that the gender gap is narrowing. Last summer, 58.5 per cent of girls achieved five good GCSE passes compared with just 48.4 per cent of boys.

But badly planned single-sex initiatives can actually make boys' "macho" behaviour worse, the study also warned. The researchers observed unruly, all-boys classes where laddism went unchecked and female teachers "almost flirted" with pupils in a desperate attempt to establish a rapport. Meanwhile girls' "bitchiness" can cause friction in all-female classes and their compliance could often mask underachievement. The study also said that there was no evidence boys learned differently to girls.

The four-year project examined 50 schools. The research found that single-sex classes for some subjects could be a good way to help boys. But it also warned that it was unlikely to close the gender gap - as a successful project would also boost girls' performance.

The study, led by Mike Younger and Molly Warrington, found: "Many girls and boys feel more comfortable in single-sex classes because of the lack of distraction of the other sex and feel more able to ... take part in discussion without fear of ridicule or embarrassment."

The report said more needed to be done to tackle "macho" boys who persuaded classmates that it was "uncool" to do well. "Some boys go to considerable lengths to protect their macho image ... by indulging in a range of non-conformist behaviour," the report said.

Last year, the former schools minister David Miliband backed the idea of single-sex classes. But ministers have not highlighted the issue since then.

A spokesman for DfES said: "It is a matter for individual schools to determine which strategies are most appropriate for their particular circumstances."

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