January 8, 2015 by dragonflytraining
Author: Stephen Coyne, @CoyneDrS.
The new president of the GSA, which represents independent girls’ schools, has suggested that boys and girls should be taught single-sex classes between the ages of 11 and 16 in state schools; the idea is that this would help improve the academic performance of the male species. The argument is that adolescent boys are intimidated by the girls and so tend not to put their hands up and contribute in class. Instead they can resort to immature behaviour and become disconnected form their studies.
I have not taught in the state system for a number of years and have no desire to tell my colleagues in the maintained system how to manage their schools. However, there is lot of sense in this suggestion and there are many examples of this working well in independent and state schools in the UK. The so-called “diamond model” is one that works well for several large school who teach coeducationally in the Junior School and Sixth Form but separate their pupils, often into Boys’ and Girls’ Divisions, between the ages of 11-16.
There are lots of obvious advantages to this system. It is well known that 13 year old girls are often almost a year in advance of their male counterparts both emotionally and intellectually. However, there are some expected benefits also. The most successful examples seem to have adolescent boys and girls mixing freely outside the classroom (for drama, music, exchanges etc.) whilst being taught separately in lessons. The stereotype of the committed girl either intimidating the lethargic young man or being intimidated herself in a culture where it is not cool to learn disappears in such a system
My experience as head of such a school for 11 years is that one can develop a culture in which it is the norm to want to make academic progress for both genders. However, they are different cultures and can complement each other in a diamond model rather than cause friction, which can happen when full co-education occurs.
In the school I managed, the desire to make academic progress was strong in both divisions but it manifested itself differently. Certain projects captured the imagination in one area but were not workable in the other. These were not predictable and were discovered by experience and taking to the pupils, rather than acting upon what stereotypes might predict. It was always a mystery to the girls that the Throwing the Wellington Boot Competition was such a mainstay of the Boys’ Division House System!
The countering of stereotypes was one of the major benefits of the system. Girls saw Maths and Science as just subjects and did not associate them with any particular gender. In my last Upper Sixth Chemistry set there were more girls than boys. Also, Modern Languages and English had a healthy representation of both genders under this system. In some schools, there are hardly any boys studying in these areas at A level.
The benefits inside the classroom are pretty well known but they were not the only ones. The Sixth Form pupils that arrived from the separate divisions were confident and articulate and happy to be working with each other. We did not see too many of the stereotypes of the arrogant male and the strident females. Those that did appear were soon put in their place by their peers.
With the onset of adolescence, it can become cool to opt out of activities, particularly cultural ones. In practice, the arts really benefited from using the diamond model. Being involved in drama or music meant seeing the opposite gender and so they thrived in both divisions. The school choir won the first ever BBC Songs of Praise Choir of the Year Competition, thanks to an inspirational conductor but also because so many pupils enjoyed being involved in music after school.
The benefits of a diamond system are significant and I would encourage anyone thinking of trying it to start making plans. There are lots of examples of this working well in state and the independent sector and many advantages to working this way.
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