Boys 'improve in school from feeling top of class'

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education correspondent

Image caption,
Researchers looked at how being top of the class boosted pupils' confidence

Boys are much more likely than girls to be influenced by where they stand in ability in school, research suggests.

A study from the London School of Economics indicates being seen as a high flyer in primary school, regardless of actual ability, can be a strong motivator for boys' performance in secondary school.

Boys were "four times more affected by being top of the class than girls".

The study was based on results of more than two million pupils in England.

The research, from Richard Murphy and Felix Weinhardt, examined how much pupils might be affected by comparisons with others in primary school and how these perceptions might become a factor in raising or lowering confidence.

Increased confidence

The study looked at what happened to pupils of similar ability who would have ranked differently in different schools, for instance because one school might have a much higher average level than another.

It found that pupils benefited from being top of a weak class, rather than being middle ranking in a class of high-performing children.

The study used the results of Sats tests taken at the end of primary school to see how pupils would have been ordered within their schools. Researchers also looked at the responses of more than 12,000 individual pupils taking part in a long-term tracking study.

"We find that the pupil who was top of the class becomes more confident and performs better in secondary school than the pupil who had the same test score in primary school but a lower rank," say the researchers.

And they say that this challenges the "conventional wisdom" that pupils will do better if pushed into a higher-performing peer group.

But this impact is much more significant for boys.

The researchers, from the LSE's Centre for Economic Performance, say that success in primary school, compared with their classmates, seems to change pupils' perceptions of their own abilities.

It gives them a greater expectation of success, so when they reach secondary school it means that they are "less likely to be put off" by difficult questions.

The researchers say that the advantage of being highly ranked in primary school is "equivalent to being taught by a highly effective teacher for one year".

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