Editor's comment

The revelation (p4) that males are doing better than females in some university admissions tests might prompt some to think that the clock could be turning. The gender gap may be a perennial topic of debate (although, as we have observed before, there was no debate when boys were performing more strongly), but it is welcome nonetheless. This is because ideas about how to motivate boys to be better learners are, very often, about motivating all learners. The suggestions from the Strathclyde University research on stimulating boys to take up modern languages make the point - involving learners in more active learning, instilling good listening skills, setting short-term targets and challenges, and giving clear justifications for learning activities.

There has long been recognition that the school curriculum and examinations favour the careful and steady application of effort, rather than quick-thinking, risk-taking, and other qualities likely to be useful to pupils, of both sexes, in adult life. There is also general acceptance that girls tend to be more diligent and engaged in their studies, while boys tend to be more challenging and easily bored.

Both claims may be true. But one thing we might learn from the current global financial crisis is that society should not have to choose between risk-taking and diligence: we need both.

Schools have done much in recent years to tackle the gender gap through more varied and dynamic teaching - to the benefit of all pupils. But, as some have argued, we can get too hung up on the gender gap in pupils' performance; despite outstripping boys in school, girls do not always carry their advantage into later life and the glass ceiling remains in place for many of them. The real gap to worry about is between the 47 per cent of S5 pupils who get three or more Highers in East Renfrewshire and the 15 per cent who do so in Glasgow.

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