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Recent British research that seems to show that primary school boys do better in English in all-boy classes and girls do better at maths in all-girl classes seems to me to support my long-held opinion that children are so often held back by self perception, expectations of what it means to belong to a particular gender, and general social conditioning.

The argument is that gender conditioning in particular can hold children back when they study with members of the opposite sex, especially when girls study a subject like maths or engineering that have traditionally been regarded as more suitable for boys. I find it a bit surprising that this kind of explanation for the research results has generally not been mentioned in media reports.

There are classic role-play experiments, such as Hartley's 'Imagine you're clever' experiment, where children who did badly on tests were encouraged to role-play imagining they were clever, and of course, while doing the role-play they did much better on the tests. There are other classic experiments where girls have been encouraged to role-play being boys, and become better at subjects that boys are normally good at.

It seems to me that, once again, George Kelly's Personal Construct Psychology can provide a perspective that is surprisingly still often neglected. I would suggest that separating boys and girls is only a short-term solution that has negative as well as positive consequences. I think the deeper solution to this kind of issue comes from focusing on and questioning the constructs that children develop about themselves.

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