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Attainment gender gap is a mystery

Exactly why boys, particularly of secondary school age, are being outpaced by girls in the UK appears to be the million dollar question (page 1). In Wales, girls reportedly do better in 85 per cent of the nation's secondary schools. That's some statistic.

Estyn suggests that maybe schools have lost their competitive edge. But it seems there are many other reasons why the education system is failing the male sex.

A lack of good role models - at home and in the classroom - is widely blamed, as is a national curriculum that has become increasingly feminised. Estyn says that by the age of 14, many boys in Wales feel they cannot keep up with the work, resulting in frustration and failure. But is there hope?

Encouraging new initiatives in Wales - the play-led foundation phase, the vocationally led 14-19 Learning Pathways and Welsh Baccalaureate - could champion boys, according to the Welsh inspectorate.

Estyn is recommending that the Assembly government should commission research into why teacher assessment tends to favour girls more than external tests and examinations. If that is the case, then maybe scrapping Sats for boys in Wales was not such a good idea.

A full breakdown, published this week, of the nation's performance in the 2006 Programme for International Student Assessment, in which 15-year-olds were tested in maths, science and literacy, revealed boys in Wales did significantly better in maths and science. In reading, however, the girls were ahead - again significantly.

There is no easy answer as to why boys are not doing as well as girls. There needs to be more focus on improving boys' literacy at an early age and preventing a marked decline on transition to secondary schools.

There are highly competitive girls out there. There are also boys who would rather spend their evenings with their nose in a book. We must be careful to treat every child as an individual with different educational needs - not as a gender statistic.

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