Hugh Reilly: No same-Sax schools, we’re British

Hugh Reilly. Picture: Robert Perry
Hugh Reilly. Picture: Robert Perry
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Like most members of the lost generation, I go into Manchurian Candidate mode immediately on hearing the phrase, “the good old days”.

My eyes have a vacant stare as I scan the vicinity to kill anyone who faintly resembles, Leonard Sachs, master of ceremonies of The Good Old Days TV show. In a forlorn effort to inculcate a degree of British culture in his children, pater forced me to watch this quintessentially English programme that gave the oxygen of publicity to played-out variety acts. I sat incredulous as my otherwise intelligent father laughed uproariously as Sachs loquaciously introduced star turns such as Arthur Askey. The aforementioned Mr Askey, who clearly did not encumber himself with scriptwriters, would skip onto the stage and bring the Victorian-period-dressed audience to its frilly knees by shouting his catchphrase: “’ello playmates!” Just when the continence of the spectators had been tested to the limit, he’d burst into song: “I’m a little bumblebee, buzz, buzz, buzz.” For some in the cheap seats, it was too much as they swooned and cackled themselves into a Nurembergesque hysteria. In an act of mercy-killing, the programme was axed and replaced by more highbrow entertainment such as Opportunity Knocks.

American psychologist, Leonard Sax (different spelling, no relation), hankers for the good old days of gender-separation education. In 2005, he blamed mixed-sex learning for depriving the world of female scientists and engineers. He wants state-funded single-gender schools as a matter of “social justice”. Sax deserves to be heard as he possesses outstanding credentials according to the National Association, of which he is the founder and director. Further academic credence comes from his authorship of books such as the non-bodice-ripper, Why Gender Matters.

Dr Sax’s ideas are, allegedly, driven by objective evidence, not ideology. Exhibit A is research by developmental psychologists that shows young male humans and some primates enjoy playing with toy vehicles because of an inbuilt fascination with movement. This concept resonates with me. I ruefully recall impoverishing my family by pester-powering my mother to buy Dinky and Corgi cars with Provident cheques. However, lads are also fascinated by things that don’t move: Lego, Meccano, school janitors. It is Sax’s contention that girls are turned off physics with its emphasis on the laws of motion. He pleads for physics teachers to begin courses with the study of light, as it gives girls the opportunity to look at photos of Paris Hilton and thereby gain their interest (I wish I were making this up).

He believes it to be “demonstrably false” that a teacher is a good teacher, no matter the gender of the pupils. Using figures scientifically plucked from the air, Sax claims that 90 per cent of teachers are better at teaching a specific gender. To be fair, this chimes with my own experience. Call me impulsive but if offered the choice of bringing some light to a class of 4th year Foundation bears last thing on a Friday afternoon or teaching a gathering of passive S1 girls, I’d opt for the latter. Admittedly, I enjoyed a greater rapport with males, usually as a consequence of a shared sense of acerbic humour.

Bizarrely, Sax states that girls are obsessed with their appearance in a bid to attract boys’ attention. This assertion is somewhat undermined by the fact that many lassies walking to Glasgow’s no-boy-learning zone, Notre Dame Secondary School for Gels, appear to be auditioning for bit-parts in a St Trinian’s sequel. He laments the fact that, despite decades of co-ed education, subjects remain gender orientated. For example, girls dominate biology, drama and foreign languages whereas boys overpopulate classes in technological studies, computing and physics. In my view, this is not the fault of schools but rather of – oh, I feel a Max Weber moment coming over me – socialisation whereby youngsters are conditioned by parents, peers and their environment to choose certain courses of study. What else could explain the fact that only 2 per cent of Higher home economics candidates this year were boys? I’m certain that many lads would love to be the next f*****g Gordon Ramsay but are afraid of being labelled jessies.

Likewise, some girls would like to pursue technological studies but fear having their sexual identity challenged.

With increased opportunity for all in our schools, maybe we are living in the good old days today.