The analysis of the GCSE scores of more than 700,000 girls indicates that

Girls are far more likely to thrive, get GCSEs and stay in education if they go to a single sex school, according to new research, which reveals pupils who are struggling academically when they start secondary school reap the biggest rewards of girls-only schooling.

The analysis of the GCSE scores of more than 700,000 girls taught in the State sector concludes that those at girls schools consistently made more progress than those in co-ed secondaries.

Big leap

The fact that pupils with the lowest test scores when they started secondary made the biggest leap in girls school will reopen the debate about whether more children should have access to a single sex education in order to drive up results. The research, conducted on behalf of the Good Schools Guide, looked at the “contextually value added” scores for every girl who took GCSEs in the State sector between 2005 and 2007.

Of the 71,286 girls who sat GCSEs in single sex schools over the three-year period, on average all did better than predicted on the basis of their end of primary Sats results.

By comparison, of the 6, 47, 942 who took exams in mixed-sex schools, 20 per cent did worse than expected.

In the value added score, in which a zero score indicates a child achieving the GCSE results expected on the basis of their Sats results at 11, the lowest 10 per cent achievers who went to girls schools scored on average 17.

Among the lowest 10 per cent achievers in mixed schools that score was -10. It means girls who start secondary struggling with their work are more likely to get GCSEs and stay on at school to do A-levels.

Benefits

Janette Wallis, editor of the Good Schools Guide, said: “A lot of parents will look at the benefits of co-ed schools, like the fact that girls and boys are educated side-by-side preparing them for the world of work and life. But to disregard this evidence would be a mistake. We never expected to see such a difference.”

Alice Sullivan, a researcher at the Institute of Education, University of London, and a specialist in single sex schooling, said: “It is very interesting that girls seem to be making more progress at single sex schools. It does support a body of research evidence that girls do better in single sex environments.”

Conflicting

However, other leading academics said the research was more conflicting. Alan Smithers, director of education at Buckingham University, said: “We know across the piece that the main variables relating to exam success are pupil characteristics, social background and quality of teacher. There is very little space for gender in the classroom to make a difference. Where it apparently has an effect it relates to other factors, such as the aspirations of the parents who want their daughter educated in a single sex school. But if this is true it will change our understanding.”

Confidence

Sue Dunford, head teacher of Southfield School for Girls in Kettering, said: “It’s a question of confidence in the way girls develop. It’s cool to be very good at anything in a girls school - maths, sciences or physics. No one will ask why you’re doing a boys subject. Girls who lack confidence can thrive more in girls-only schools. We don’t have boys competing and distracting, so girls can really go for it.”

POLLY CURTIS

Education Editor,

The Guardian