Single-Sex Schools Making a Comeback

Girls Do Better Separated From Boys, Studies Show

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GLASGOW, Scotland, MAY 12, 2001 (Zenit.org).- A perennial question in education is whether girls and boys should be schooled together or separately. A number of recent articles in the press point to the advantages of single-sex education.



In England, girls´ boarding schools are enjoying a revival, according to an April 25 article in the Times. Enrollment rose 13% last year. One example is the Bruton School for Girls in Somerset, where 200 of its 600 pupils now board.

Principal Barbara Bates said that the reason for the trend was clear: "Girls work so much better when they are away from the boys. The peer group pressures are removed, and they really go for it."

"They also mature earlier than boys," Bates added. "It helps if they are not distracted. If you look at the league tables, you can see how well they do. Far more all-boy schools are choosing to become coeducational than the other way round."

Her statements are supported by last year´s academic results. Pupils overall are failing to reach national standards, but it is the boys who are falling behind far more than girls, the Times reported March 26.

By age 11, girls on average fall below the expected level in English by two months, while boys lag behind by 11 months. By age 14, girls fall behind by 18 months, boys by three years. The data comes from a study "Girls Know Better," published by Civitas, an independent market-orientated think tank.

From 1955 to 1968 boys outperformed girls by 5% in national exams, but from 1970 to 1985 girls caught up. From 1987 onward, boys have only done 80% as well as girls.

The report affirms that the decline in male academic performance is due to changes in teaching methods in recent years. Another story, published March 11 by the Sunday Times, suggests that even before starting school, boys and girls differ in their intellectual development.

Two parallel studies carried out on 3,200 four- and five-year-olds across Scotland reveal that boys are underperforming in a range of assessment areas in the year before school and during their first primary year.

Eric Wilkinson, author of the government-funded report and professor of education at Glasgow University, assessed 1,200 pupils throughout Scotland and found that girls outperformed boys on eight "baseline assessment" categories, including physical coordination and math. Baseline assessments are conducted as interviews to assess children´s basic literacy and numeracy, such as the ability to interact, turn pages and identify words and letters.

In the category of expressive communication, 55% of preschool girls scored top marks compared to 35% of boys. More than 54% of girls recorded top scores in reading, but only 40% of boys. In writing, two-thirds of the girls scored top marks, in contrast to fewer than half the boys.

A similar study by Renfrewshire council discovered that, of more than 600 pupils starting primary school, the boys on average score lower in every single test. On their ability to match words and pictures and understand the beginnings and endings of words, the boys recorded scores at least 10% lower than the girls.

Exam results show that the gender gap widens as pupils move to secondary school. Girls do better than boys in 21 out of 34 higher subjects. Even in traditionally male-dominated subjects, girls are forging ahead; 78% of those who took higher physics last year passed the exam, compared with 67% of boys. Boys are also more prone to dyslexia and learning difficulties.

In United States and Canada

Evidence from the United States also points out the advantages of separating the sexes at school, the Washington Times reported Feb. 26. One place where this is being tested is at Campus School, a public school in Tennessee on the grounds of the University of Memphis. The College of Education operates it as a laboratory for teaching grades one through six.

This year, the school is experimenting with two single-sex classes. Last year, parents of fourth-graders decided whether to enroll their children in the single-sex classes this year. Forty-nine of 56 said yes.

So far, school officials say they have fewer discipline problems and classroom distractions, and promising academic results. Gwen Hewitt credits the single-sex class for helping her daughter, Tori Roseman, bring up her grades. "The positive synergy can´t be equaled," she said. "It offers the girls an opportunity to give each other support. They´re more directed and more focused."

An article by Cathy Young in Reason magazine supports this point of view. The February piece -- "Where the Boys Are: Is America Shortchanging Male Children?" -- opined that single-sex schooling may be the best option for at least a part of the school population because some teen-agers learn best without the distracting presence of the other sex.

Some studies indicate that, for boys and girls alike, the fear of looking stupid in front of opposite-sex classmates is a major deterrent to speaking in class. Boys in particular may try to impress girls.

In Canada, a report on single-sex private schools in the province of Ontario reveals that they enjoy the highest academic standards. The Fraser Institute´s "Report Card on Ontario´s Secondary Schools" shows that the top 16 high schools in the institute´s rankings are privately funded, and, of these, 10 are single-sex schools, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported April 19.

The institute ranked schools from zero to 10 based on five measures of performance in grades 11 and 12 and OAC (the former grade 13). Its latest figures are from two years ago. It also collected data for the five years prior to that, in order to show whether a school was improving or declining.

Of the 815 high schools it considered, it was able to find sufficient data on 568 to include them in the rankings. The rankings were based on the percentage of advanced courses taken; the percentage of courses passed; the core courses in English (or French in French-language schools), math and basic sciences taken per student; the gender gap in language arts; and the gender gap in math.

Meanwhile, in the Australian state of New South Wales, single-sex education is being accepted in the public school system. According to the March 23 Sun-Herald, state Premier Bob Carr, a product of the public school system, is championing the cause of single-sex schools, particularly for girls. And he is selling prized public land to pay for the facilities.

Education Minister John Aquilina is also committed to the concept of making more single-sex schools available in the state sector. "Parents are telling us they want single-sex schools," he said. "Burwood Girls High School has 180 girls on its waiting list. We will lose them all because parents will send them to private schools. We need to provide educational choice." There may be a lesson here for other countries.