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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

On boys lagging behind girls in UK schools

"If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe." - Carl Sagan

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The smarter sex: Does it matter if girls do better than boys?

"Boys will perform just as you expect them to, it seems. If you tell them they aren't as intelligent as girls and are less likely to do well in tests, that is exactly what will happen. So says the latest salvo in the battle of the sexes that has preoccupied educationalists for decades...

Almost certainly not. After all, not all boys have been told they don't perform well in tests, yet almost universally they come in a poor second to girls...

It is nowadays the education of boys – particularly white, working-class boys – that most worries educationalists... boys were spending more time on the "three Fs" than the three Rs. The three Fs were characterised as "fighting, football and f***king"...

Facing the loss of traditional male employment... the macho lads responded to their academic failure and lack of employment prospects by celebrating the three Fs...

More action books rather than works by writers such as Jane Austen... should be used in schools, it was argued... Male role models – such as the footballers Ian Wright and Tony Adams – were drafted into schools to support reading campaigns. But by 1999, figures showed that boys were faring worse than girls in every exam...

The biggest leap in girls' performance, though, occurred in 2002 – the first year that the new syllabus for A-levels, with more emphasis on coursework, was examined. "Boys tend to do better in exams"...

Boys had at least scored one victory over girls. They were ahead on the percentage of candidates securing three straight A* grades at A-level... An alternative way, meanwhile, of dealing with the gender gap is advanced by proponents of single-sex education: teach students separately...

These arguments, though, ignore some of the social consequences of teaching boys alone. According to a study by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at London University's Institute of Education, boys who have been to single-sex schools are more likely to end up divorced than those taught in a mixed environment (37 per cent as opposed to 28 per cent)...

Does it matter, though, that girls are now performing better than boys in exams? "I'm not sure," confesses Professor Smithers. "The issue is whether we're allowing boys and girls to develop to their full potential. In particular, that was highlighted by the old 11-plus (which determined who went to grammar schools). Girls consistently did better than boys, so boys were allowed in on lower marks – something that wasn't really made known at the time... I don't think we should want to equalise the outcomes of education, though. It doesn't bother me that girls don't appear to like physics very much but are more steeped in literature than boys."

A study by the Institute of Education concluded that the rise in exam performance over the previous decade was entirely down to the improved performance by girls; their pass rate rose at a higher rate than the national rate overall, while boys' performance remained static. This could perhaps pose an interesting question for academia: either exams have not in fact been "dumbed down" as many traditionalists have claimed, or boys are getting thicker by the year. Answers, please, on one side of an A4!"


The British seem to be more concerned about girls outperforming boys than the Americans, perhaps because they have fewer neuroses about gender discrimination (they have more neuroses about multiculturalism, though).

Outside of the UK context, this resounds with the study on why black pupils do worse than non-black ones in the US.

One is also led to wonder why girls, who by necessity have to be involved in the last of the 3 Fs, do not seem to suffer from their participation. This is probably because it is not so much about the Third F, but about the leadup to it - which consumes more resources than its performance.
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