Boys' schools have an edge - study

STRONG PERFORMERS: Brothers Max Jones, 17, and Hugo, 15, have excelled in both academia and sports with an all boys’ education.
STRONG PERFORMERS: Brothers Max Jones, 17, and Hugo, 15, have excelled in both academia and sports with an all boys’ education.

Boys in single-sex education are performing better than in co-educational and appear to be ditching the sporty stereotype for one where it is "cool to achieve", an education researcher says.

Forty-two per cent of boys-only school leavers between 2010 and 2012 attained University Entrance, 83 per cent at least NCEA Level 2, and 8 per cent gained no qualification.

This compared with 23 per cent of male co-educational school leavers attaining University Entrance, 69 per cent with at least NCEA Level 2, and 17 per cent without any qualification.

But a Canterbury co-educational school principal argues the quality of the school is more important than gender variables.

New Zealand Council for Educational Research chief researcher Cathy Wylie, who was commissioned to conduct the analysis by the Association of Boys' Schools of New Zealand, said boys' schools were shifting away from being stereotypically sport focused.

It was "cool to achieve" in many high-performing boys' schools, she found.

"On average, we're seeing better results in terms of qualifications at the boys' schools, but that's on average."

The higher the decile, the greater the achievement difference between boys' and co-ed schools. Maori and Pacific Islanders were more likely to leave with qualifications from a boys' school.

High-performing schools stressed the importance of a student-centred approach, offering co-curricular activities alongside academic programmes, developing self-managing students who set high goals for themselves, providing leadership opportunities and threading core school valuesy.

They were "things that would apply to girls as well", Wylie said.

Christchurch Boys' High principal Nic Hill said boys' schools formed a connection, identity and good relationship with students.

"Boys' schools do tend to be ambitious and do have this focus on excellence," he said."

More than 60 per cent of the school's teachers coached sport, compared with about 30 per cent across other schools, which created more of a connection with students, Hill said.

While Christchurch Boys' High parent Penny Jones had no strong preference for single-sex education, the school's strong tradition, commitment to sport and "impressive" number of male teachers was best for her 15 and 17-year-old sons.

"Success in learning is definitely celebrated in the same way that their sport is," she said.

"The old argument that girls can be a distraction is possible . . . in the early years. The boys felt that themselves and they don't have to compare themselves with girls' performance."

Shirley Boys' High principal John Laurenson said boys were "geared for physical stuff" and often shied away against the achievements of female classmates.

Boys' schools often fostered camaraderie and mateship while catering to their specific and competitive nature, he said.

Some boys, and girls, were better suited to co-educational schools, Laurenson said.

Cashmere High School principal Mark Wilson, who was previously principal at Hamilton Boys' High, said the quality of the school was more important than the gender.

"I think it's an over-simplification which reinforces stereotypes," he said.

His school found boys and girls achieved at a similar level, which fit with the findings of well-regarded education researcher and government adviser John Hattie.

"Good teaching, regardless of whether in boys' or co-educational, should be the most important thing," Wilson said.

The Press