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Boys and girls need separate classes
By Graeme Paton, Education Correspondent

12:01AM GMT 04 Jan 2007

Boys should be taught separately to stop them falling further behind girls as part of an extensive overhaul of the education system, a powerful Government-backed review says today.

Teachers should be encouraged to tailor classes to fit the needs of boys, with more emphasis on "competitive" lessons and the reading of non-fiction books, according to the review, chaired by Christine Gilbert, the head of Ofsted, the schools watchdog.

The recommendation follows the publication of GCSE results last summer which showed that boys were achieving a level of performance that girls had reached seven years before.

Today's report calls for a huge shake-up in the way education is delivered over the next 15 years to ensure that school leavers in 2020 have all the requisite skills.

"It seems clear to us that the education system will not achieve the next 'step change' in raising standards simply by doing more of the same: a new approach is required," it says.

The report, 2020 Vision, is the culmination of an eight-month study.

It says parents should get state funding to give their children extra private tuition if they are struggling with English or maths.

It also suggests that high-flying pupils should be allowed to sit exams early and progress to the next year if they are clever enough — calling for a generation of schools focused on "stage not age".

The national testing regime should also be reviewed, with school league tables redrawn to take account of the achievements of individual pupils at 16, rather than narrowly focusing on those who gain at least five good GCSEs.

It suggests that weak pupils who gain a D-grade or below should be given greater recognition with a new qualification. It would give them something to work towards rather than becoming disruptive.

It is thought likely that many of the reforms will be implemented given the millions ministers have earmarked for "personalised learning".

Last year, Beverley Hughes, the the children's minister, said the Government had set aside £1.3 billion to support similar initiatives.

The review was commissioned last year by the Government to establish how schools could adapt to push the brightest pupils yet reach out to persistent underachievers.

Miss Gilbert's report says that "for too many pupils, school does not engage them or equip them with the skills they need".

It notes that poor standards achieved by boys remained "extremely persistent" and calls for different techniques to be employed for the sexes.

Schools should invest in gender-specific curriculum materials, it says, and boys should be encouraged to read more non-fiction.

In a controversial move, it also suggests that ministers consider funding extra lessons for all pupils who are not making the grade in English and maths, from primary school through to GCSE.

"Pupils and their parents could be offered a range of options, some provided by the school, some by other approved providers," it says. Officials said this could include private tuition.

Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, welcomed the report and said it would be considered before any policy decisions were made.

"I want to remove the barriers which prevent any individual child from reaching their full potential," he said. "We need to make sure that no one is left behind at any point — from the most gifted and talented children at the top of the class, to the uninterested child at the back."

Nick Gibb, the Conservative shadow education secretary, also welcomed the report but said that schools needed to return to streaming by ability, a recommendation overlooked by the study.