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Exam gap gets wider by the year

It is not only boys behaving badly but doing badly that is of increasing concern to secondary headteachers. James Dalziel, head of Eastbank Academy in Glasgow, went public at the secondary heads' conference last September when he described boys' performance in examinations as "a major weakness" of the comprehensive system.

The challenge was how to make academic success acceptable to boys, Mr Dalziel said. For every two Standard grade Credit awards achieved by girls at his school boys got one. "It is getting worse year after year," he said.

Peter Downes, former president of the Secondary Heads' Association in England, told the conference there was a 10 per cent variation in exam performance between boys and girls in England.

The gap in Scotland has been getting wider since 1977-78 when girls' attainment broadly equalled that of boys. Girls achieved better results in virtually all Standard grade subjects between 1991-94 and the only subject in which girls did consistently worse was PE.

Mr Downes believes boys overestimate their ability and expect to get results without work. Boys prefer active learning while girls are happy to concentrate alone.

The SHA publication Can Boys Do Better?, issued last month, suggests that "the nub of the matter seems to lie in a combination of social factors and levels of literacy. Not only are girls better readers than boys at the age of 11, but they are also hard working, organised and have a greater sense of their individual progress than boys."

But the report's preference for separate teaching has been rejected at Eastbank Academy. Mr Dalziel said: "We don't want a gender split in the school. It has got to be an across-the-board approach which raises standards for everybody while targeting where necessary."

Eastbank has already established a special third-year group of 17 pupils, including two girls. They take seven Standard grade subjects instead of the Glasgow norm of eight, which leaves three hours a week for learning support, building up their self-esteem and preparing for employment. "Our efforts must be geared to creating a culture that is more inclined towards praise," Mr Dalziel says. "If this works, given time, boys might start to get the message. "

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