‘Separate girls from boys’

By Michelle Jones Time of article published Feb 1, 2011

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An increasing number of Cape Town schools are opting to separate boys and girls because of the key differences in the way they are able to learn and cope with their emotional maturity.

Extensive research had found that both boys and girls do better academically and socially when they are able to learn separately.

Of the 27 pupils on the Western Cape Education Department’s merit list of the top performing pupils in last year’s national senior certificate exams, the vast majority were girls.

And on the list of the top 10 performing schools in the province in the 2010 final exams, half of the schools were girls schools. Of the other five schools, four were boys schools and only one, Westerford High School, was co-ed.

Gavin Keller, principal of the Sun Valley group of schools, said a large amount of research had made it clear it was easier to teach just boys or just girls at the key stages in their development.

He asked that principals and teachers recognise the “fundamental differences” in how boys and girls were able to learn.

Boys were nine to 15 months behind in reading but the same amount of time ahead in maths, science and spatial activities. For this reason pupils at Sun Valley were separated in grades 1, 2 and 3.

Keller said that in these early years girls were more adept at reading, leaving boys in the same class feeling they were not interested. When boys were in a separate class they were able to learn to read at their own pace, and enjoy doing so.

Another key difference between the sexes was girls’ ability to quickly verbalise their emotions while boys were only able to recognise that they were “glad, sad or mad”.

In separate classes boys were taught to recognise the full spectrum of their emotions.

Keller said another key development stage at which to separate pupils was in the hormone-driven grades of late primary school and early high school.

The president of the SA Principals’ Association, Alta van Heerden, said that separating classes made sense because boys and girls matured at different ages.

At Sunlands Primary, where Van Heerden was principal, there were same-gender classes for grades 6 and 7.

“The single sex classes work at an emotional level. The girls and the boys don’t have to worry about making mistakes.”

Camps Bay High School principal David de Korte said English teachers had come up with the idea to separate the Grade 9 class because the girls tended to have all the answers while the boys sat back.

At that age the boys were going through puberty and more concerned about their image than reading, De Korte said.

This was the second year the separation had been in place and teachers were already noticing an improvement in pupils’ results.

De Korte said those against the separation of boys and girls argued that if parents wanted their child in a single-sex class, they would have sent the child to a single-sex school.

But those schools were often “difficult to access and expensive”.

Bergvliet High and Edgemead Primary were two other schools which had separated boys and girls.

Bruce Probyn, principal of Herschel Girls School, said it was simpler to run a single-sex school because there was no need to worry about what the other sex wanted or needed.

Herschel was one of the top schools in the province with a 100 percent matric pass rate.

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