International schools in Hong Kong

Why sitting next to girls in school is good for boys, even if they’re bossy – girls are academic role models and help with social skills

A parent complains that there are too many girls in their son’s class, and he doesn’t like sitting next to them. While it might be annoying for him, research shows it will be beneficial for him in the long run

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 May, 2018, 3:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 May, 2018, 7:02pm

There are more girls than boys in my son’s Year 4 class and the teacher splits the boys up, sitting them alternately with the girls, a Hong Kong parent writes. My son doesn’t like working with the girls because he says they’re bossy. Do teachers normally dictate seating like this?

I would suggest that despite your son’s feelings about being made to sit and work with girls, there are many advantages. It has long been recognised that girls have a positive influence on the work habits of boys when working alongside them. A recent study published in the journal School Effectiveness and School Improvement showed that boys perform better in school when there are more girls in the class. Girls, with their higher levels of maturity and concentration, act as good role models for their male counterparts, helping them to focus on the task at hand.

Boys frequently achieve less at school than girls at your son’s age, especially in fine motor skills, reading and writing. As well as helping boys to perform better academically, working with girls can help them develop social skills, as their female classmates generally have better listening and communication skills both in whole class sessions and small group activities.

Even taking all of the above into account, the actual outcome of various seating arrangements depends on the nature of each child. However, you can be assured that seating boys with girls is a common strategy used by teachers to create a calm and productive working environment, and often leads to fewer behavioural issues. Boys may complain initially when made to sit with the opposite sex, but in my experience this works well and is often approved of by the parents of boys in the class.

The advantages for girls are less clear, though. Boys are often more immature and boisterous at primary school, especially in the younger years, and their ability to concentrate and sit still for periods of time can be lower, which is distracting for others.

Girls often consider boys’ behaviour as immature, silly or “naughty”. Hence this may lead to a certain amount of disapproving eye rolling and bossiness, as described by your son.

My child has attention issues and gets pulled out of class. I worry it is holding him back

Nevertheless, boys can provide good role models for open-ended problem solving and hands-on practical activities because they sometimes have a more risk-taking approach to challenges set by the teacher. Boys tend to prefer kinaesthetic activities and visual cues, while girls often demonstrate good auditory proficiency and emotional intelligence, preferring group tasks where they have opportunities to discuss ideas with others and come to a mutual consensus.

Bearing this in mind, teachers need to use differing teaching styles to cater for the diverse learning styles of all students.

Providing flexible groupings for different subjects in the curriculum and changing the seating arrangements every term means that children get to know peers they may not otherwise socialise with. They sometimes surprise themselves by making new friends or finding suitable working partners.

Hong Kong parent appalled by bad behaviour at son’s school

If both sexes choose who they work with, it will inevitably lead to social chat and unhelpful distractions that should be saved for the playground. Pupils have to prove that they can work productively and sensibly for this to be an option.

One disadvantage of having fewer boys in your son’s class is fewer opportunities for social interactions with other boys. Although boys do sometimes play with girls at this age, they more often have different interests and gravitate towards friends of their own gender, especially as they grow older.

Pressure on international school places means that schools usually have to take the next child on the waiting list, regardless of gender. This means that some year groups end up with an imbalance.

Overall, a fairly equitable balance of boys and girls in your son’s class is the best scenario. Schools generally spend a great deal of time and effort allocating pupils to classes taking careful consideration of both academic ability, behaviour and personality of students, as well as other social and emotional factors.

Julie McGuire is a former Hong Kong primary school teacher