Boys ‘easier to control in single-sex classes’
Teachers can impose tougher discipline on boys who are in segregated classrooms, an independent school head teacher has said in defence of single-sex education. Many experts extol the benefits for girls, but Mark Steed, principal of Berkhamsted School, said that boys thrived in a single-sex environment because teachers could be more “black and white” about discipline.
His views contradict Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, who said last week that children were best taught in mixed classes. Mr Steed runs a “diamond” school, with girls and boys taught together until 11, separated on different sites during adolescence, and brought together for sixth form. “Boys manage without girls because the key to their academic success is discipline; it’s that simple,” he said. “It’s much easier in an all-boys environment to say, ‘That’s where the line is’. Whereas girls don’t like black and white, boys just need it. “It’s easier to manage boys’ performance between 14 and 16 by just saying ‘That’s how it is, son. That’s where the line is. Don’t cross it’. The massive strides [made at the school] in boys’ performance has been down to strong discipline and clear expectations.”
Girls benefited because they go through puberty earlier than boys, Mr Steed said. “For girls in years 8 to 9 (aged 12 to 14), it’s a very difficult period to have boys on the scene as well. “The other thing about single-sex schools is you can keep them younger for longer. They can just be themselves and grow up at their own rate. They’re less giggly, more focused on their work and slightly more competitive because of it. “We have roughly the same A-level take-up for sciences between the sexes, although slightly more girls do combined science and more boys choose physics.”
Mr Steed also said that achieving a top grade at GCSE was easy if you just “followed the instructions”, adding: “Girls are very good at taking stuff in and reproducing it and GCSE in its current form commends itself to that. Girls are more likely to follow the instructions than boys, but that doesn’t work at A level.” He said that he expected girls to become more stressed with the introduction of linear GCSEs this term, which are examined after two years and have no coursework.
When reunited at A level, boys and girls learn from each other’s styles of working, he said, with boys having to adapt to a less “nannying” approach than they were used to.
The school takes children from 5 months to 18. It also runs a separate prep school and sponsors an academy.