Sydney Morning Herald

Not a girl in sight when the bell rings for this class

By Jenny Tabakoff
June 10 2002
Sydney Morning Herald

Every Friday, a few minutes before the period bell, the year 11 boys-only Standard English class at St Clair High School rush to the teacher's desk to enter their selections for the footy-tipping competition.

"Come on, Craig," their teacher, Sandra Talbot, gently joshes during a discussion of Robert Frost's poetry. "I know the Raiders got beaten on the weekend but ..."

The footy-tipping competition is one tool that Ms Talbot, head of English at this large western Sydney co-ed comprehensive high school, is using to break down the barriers with her 21 male students, most of whom have struggled with the subject.

One barrier had been the dominance of girls in English, so the school has begun a year 11 boys-only class to allow male students more of a voice - and fewer distractions.

What does the class think of the initiative?

"Way better," they chorus. "You don't get distracted," says Jason Aquilina. "You study better when you have your friends with you."

The rest throw in similar comments: "You don't get teased as much"... "You can have a laugh" ... "When you're in a class with girls you hold back"... "They think they know it all".

Sean Egan left school last year in year 11 but has returned, determined to get his HSC and not "muck around" so much. He is finding this English class "a lot better ... no-one's afraid to say their answers".

His classmate Julian Maday hated English because teachers often "moved on" after a few girls had given their answers. These days he looks forward to English: "Now, if we don't know it, we just say so and discuss it until we do."

St Clair High, which maintains links with Newcastle University's Men and Boys' Program, has a range of boys' education initiatives, including Rock and Water classes for some year 7 pupils, aimed at boosting self-esteem and reducing bullying. Next term, a boys-only year 10 English class will start in the run-up to the School Certificate. The school hopes to establish links with a nearby primary, giving older boys a chance to become leaders and mentors.

The students for the year 11 boys-only English class were selected partly on the basis of their school certificate results. "You want a mix of motivated and capable, and even the disaffected, to be dragged along and be inspired by the others and by the teacher," says the school's deputy principal, Tim McCallum. .

Works are chosen from the curriculum, but with one eye on their boy-appeal. Robert Frost's poetry, for instance, frequently focuses on decision-making, says Ms Talbot.

The class is a "a lot of fun", but Ms Talbot hopes her students are learning more than "just stuff to get marks for the HSC". She hopes the class will emerge more confident, and "valuing something about education". There is more to win here than just the footy-tipping competition.

Copyright © 2002. The Sydney Morning Herald