No Gender Gap at These Schools; Larry Neild Examines Learning That Ignores Sex

Article excerpt

Byline: Larry Neild

ARE single sex schools better than mixed educational establishments? It is a question exercising the minds of parents as they decide where to send their offspring. Most fee-paying schools are now co-educational, though a few remain as bastions of the single-sex sector.

Belvedere School in Devonshire Road, Princes Park, Liverpool, Merchant Taylors' in Crosby and Birkenhead School (which both have separate boys and girls schools) are single sex schools. Belvedere is part of the Girls' Day School Trust (GDST).

Belvedere's results demonstrate the statistic that girls have been performing better than boys in GCSE exams for many years. For the last two years this has also applied to A-level results and last year, the first full year of the new post-16 AS/A2 exams, the pattern was extended with girls once again out-performing boys.

As a spokeswoman for Belvedere says: "We are very proud of the excellent results achieved in our schools. However GDST schools do much more than reinforce national patterns."

The girls at Belvedere are in no doubt that they prefer a girls' school, with one pupil making the comment: "I think that there are fewer distractions without boys" Rachael Taylor, 15, said: "I feel confident saying what I think in class in an all girls' school as I don't worry about what the others think".

Sarah Sharkey, 15, agreed, saying: "I think your friends give you more support in your work."

Across the country there is still considerable evidence of subject stereotyping - for example, girls, who match boys in relation to entries and performance in mathematics and science at GCSE, tend to opt out of these subjects in the sixth formAt GDST schools this is not the case. Maths, Biology and Chemistry are three of the four most popular subject choices at A-level, with Physics not far behind.

Last year, in all three science subjects and in maths, over 40% of entrants at GDST schools achieved a grade A at A-level.

This achievement follows through to higher education where in 2002 just over 11% of trust pupils took up places to read medicine or dentistry at university, compared with 2.5% of all women and 1.8% of men nationally.

In the physical sciences the story was similar and the corresponding figure was 4.4% for trust pupils compared with 3% of all women. …