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Boys suffer while girls flourish when learning with the brightest

Boys suffer academically when surrounded by high-achievers at school while girls benefit according to new research from LSE.

Published in the latest edition of the Journal of Labor Economics, the research shows that brighter boys in particular are negatively affected by studying with a larger proportion of brilliant peers at school. In contrast the researchers found that girls, and especially those who are less able, benefit from studying with smarter school mates (1).

school boyFelix Weinhardt, one of the researchers, said: “We’d love to know why boys and girls respond so differently when they are faced with academically very bright schoolmates. Although there is some research that shows that girls are more positively influenced by peers and social interactions we don’t know if that is the effect that we are seeing here.”

The research also show that a large fraction of ‘bad’ peers in a school negatively affects the academic performance of their schoolmates.

The average ability of schoolmates did not have much of an impact on academic achievement.

Dr Olmo Silva, a lecturer in geography and one of the paper’s authors, said: “It is important to stress that the size of the effects we have found are small. So while our results are interesting they do not suggest – for example – that the re-grouping of students into different ability streams would make a major difference on pupils’ achievements.”

The researchers looked at the academic achievements of pupils in England in age-14 national tests (Key Stage 3) in English, Maths and Science for the four academic years 2001/02 - 2004/05. These results were compared with their Key Stage 2 results at age 11.

Pupils that had gone to the same primary school were singled out from those that had not so that the researchers could focus on the effect of new peers’ ability on pupil achievement. Factors such as family background and school quality were also controlled for.

The ‘best’ and the ‘worst’ pupils are defined as those who scored in the top or bottom 5 per cent nationally in their Key Stage 2 tests.

The paper ‘The good, the bad and the average: evidence on ability peer effects on schools’ was written by Professor Victor Lavy from the University of Warwick and Hebrew University and Dr Olmo Silva and Felix Weinhardt from LSE.

Notes to editors

1) The researchers’ findings suggest that a 10 per cent increase in the proportion of the brightest pupils would decrease boys’ academic achievement by 0.5 percentile points in the national age-14 tests. In contrast, such an increase would improve girls’ performance by 0.7 percentile points. These effects are slightly more pronounced for academically weaker girls, and academically stronger boys.

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