Recent research publicised this month in the journal School Effectiveness and School Improvement revealed that boys do perform better when they are outnumbered by girls; specifically, where there are at least 60% girls in a class. This conclusion was arrived at by analysing PISA data from 8,000 mixed gender schools across 33 different OECD countries. The positive academic attributes of girls such as higher motivation and concentration levels positively influences boys.
Venturing towards a “diamond structure” is an exciting change. As we made our announcement, a timely article came out in The Telegraph “Are diamond schools the future of education?” which highlighted the academic success seen in New Hall School, which adopted the model twelve years ago. In the same article, there was also a mention of another school in Dorset, Leweston School which is planning to introduce the diamond model for STEM subjects in September 2019. There are other schools that currently follow the diamond model all across the country, including Clifton High School in Bristol and Berkhamstead School in Hertfordshire. Ipswich High School is therefore not alone.
Diamond schools are however “born” through different ways; either originating as boys’ schools, accepting girls or vice versa or, in some cases, two separate single sex schools merging under one umbrella, sharing facilities. Just before October half term, I visited Forest School in London, a very well established diamond school, which came to be through a boys’ and girls’ school merging. The visit was incredibly beneficial, and witnessing the diamond model in action was indeed interesting; I observed a class of boys and a separate class of girls being taught GCSE study skills. The teaching approaches were indeed different and, both genders were equally engaged. Forest School is a “complete” diamond school, where every subject was taught separately in the Senior School as the school was large, well established (it had been a diamond school for nearly 40 years) and had an equal ratio of boys to girls which makes the diamond model easy to run logistically.
At Ipswich High School, we are adopting the “partial” diamond model, whereby core subjects alongside DT, Food Science and Performing Arts are being as separate subjects in the Senior School. For other subjects, girls and boys will be taught together, where the benefits of being able to engage in discussion really benefits both boy and girls. In Years 5 and 6 in our Junior School, the core subjects of English, Maths and Science are being taught separately, alongside sport.
There is a clear rationale for the adopting of the diamond model for STEM subjects as a gender gap has been evidenced in much research over the years, as evidence by the many national and worldwide initiatives that have sought to rectify this. The issue of gender stereotyping extends to other subjects as well, 90% of performing art students are girls, and boys make up only 29% of English A level students (according to Lara McInerney who writes in the Telegraph). Ipswich High School has a strong sense that we should be dispelling these old fashioned, incorrect and unhealthy myths, not just for girls, but for boys as well as we enter our new era and we strongly believe our diamond model of education will do just this.
As we move into our new era, teachers have been reflecting on the training they may require to maintain their excellent standard of teaching so that we do our very best by both girls and boys. In a recent “gender teaching” audit I conducted across the school, it is evident that the majority of our teachers already have experience of teaching both girls and boys in co-education environments. Nonetheless, as a school we strive to make sure that our teaching is of the highest calibre, so our school training during our staff study days next April and September will be focused on delivering the most engaging and productive lessons regardless of whether we are teaching girls, boys or a “mixed class”.
To conclude, Ipswich High School not only offers the “best of both” worlds in terms of our future diamond model, but in our co-education classes, boys will benefit from being in lessons in girls, and girls’ attainment will be maintained (compared to a single sex environment). Further, our teachers, who are both high qualified and experienced are continuing to strive to develop their teaching practices so that high quality lessons are delivered at all stages across our curriculum.
By Nicola Griffiths, Deputy Head