Boys" English grades are up to a tenth worse when high numbers of girls are in the class with them, though girls" grades are unaffected
Boys do worse in English when there are girls in their class, researchers will say today, contradicting the widely held belief that girls are always a good influence on boys in school.
Boys do best with "as few girls as possible" in English lessons at primary and secondary school, Steven Proud, a research student at Bristol University, will tell the Royal Economic Society"s conference.
But when it comes to maths and science, both boys and girls at primary school achieve up to a tenth of a grade more when there is a high proportion of girls in the class, Proud found.
Proud tracked boys" and girls" test results at the ages of seven, 11, 14 and 16 in 16,000 schools in England between 2002 and 2004 for his PhD.
He analysed the test scores to see whether the proportion of girls in a year group made a difference to the results of both genders in maths, science and English.
There are marginally more boys than girls in schools, but most classes in mixed schools are almost equally split between the genders. Proud looked at these and schools that were exceptional in their high or low proportion of girls.
Boys consistently perform up to a tenth of a grade worse when they study English with high numbers of girls as opposed to few or no girls, Proud found.
The more girls there are in an English class, the worse boys perform. This is particularly the case in primary schools, he discovered.
Proud will argue that his results show boys should be taught English in single-sex classes.
Girls, who outperform boys in English at every stage at school, are unaffected by the number of boys in their English classes.
Girls also do better when there are some boys who receive free school meals in their class, Proud found.
He said: "The results imply that boys would benefit at all ages from being taught English with as small a proportion of girls as possible. In maths and science, the results tend to imply that both boys and girls benefit from having more girls in the classroom. A mix of the genders in both science and maths is optimal."
Proud said boys may do worse in English when there is a high proportion of girls in their class because they realise that the girls are better than them. It could also be that teachers use teaching styles more appropriate to girls when there are more girls than boys in the class. Both genders perform better in maths and science at primary school when there are more girls in the class because boys tend to disrupt the class more, he said.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, said girls started school with slightly better verbal skills, while boys started with a slightly greater aptitude for maths.
"Boys might be discouraged by how well girls are doing in English," he said, "but that still does not explain why they would do better in maths and science with a higher proportion of girls in their class.
"This is one study, among many, which detects very small differences between boys and girls. But you can"t say that it means boys or girls should be separated. It has very little practical importance for schools."