Single-sex math classes benefit girls, not boys

iStock_000020536048XSmallSome schools introduce single-sex classes as a strategy to enhance the learning experiences of either girls or boys, depending on the educational climate of the time. Currently, in Britain, a number of schools are using this strategy in an attempt to raise boys’ achievement.

Carolyn Jackson, Lancaster University, conducted a small study at one coeducational, inner-city comprehensive school in the southwest of England. The school has approximately 500-550 students in grades 7-11. Jackson describes the children as mainly white and working-class.

In 1994, this school introduced single-sex mathematics classes primarily to increase the confidence of girls in mathematics. Math was the only subject taught in single-sex classes. Girls responded favorably to these math classes, 80 percent of them claimed to be more confident and wanted to continue in girls-only math classes (although they did not wish their other classes to be girls only) and 65 percent believed that it helped their progress in mathematics.

Behavior problems

In girls-only classes, they reported, they were not made fun of for getting something wrong and did not feel embarrassed attempting a problem. Boys, on the other hand, did not like single-sex math classes. They reported they got more punishments in boys-only classes.

In the recent attempt to raise boys’ achievement, single-sex math classes were reintroduced. It was found that single-sex math classes helped girls but not boys. It increased girls’ confidence to deal with the boys when they returned to mixed classes. However, the climate of the boys’ groups was reported to be more competitive and aggressive than in mixed classes. Boys reported there were more fights, noise, cheating and bullying.

Without girls present, boys who were not athletic, vocal or aggressive were bullied. Single-sex classes did not appear to encourage academic focus among the boys. Jackson concludes that curriculum-as-usual single-sex boys’ classes are unlikely to provide benefits for boys. If schools want to provide single-sex classes to benefit boys, she believes a reform agenda is necessary.

“Can Single-Sex Classes in Coeducational Schools Enhance the Learning Experiences of Girls and/or Boys? An Exploration of Pupils’ Perceptions,” British Educational Research Journal, Volume 28, Number 1, February 2002, pp. 37-48.

Published in ERN May/June 2002 Volume 15 Number 5

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