A case study by Jennifer Menzies, a PE teacher at Dunfermline High, found girls needed to be skilled and confident in practical parts of the course to achieve Credit grades. Boys consistently outperformed girls at Standard grade PE, the only subject in the curriculum at which they do.
Ms Menzies seeks to explain the reasons for the substantial variations in the Scottish Journal of Physical Education. Her small-scale study found that teachers favour boys, who are more often selected to demonstrate. "Conditions for positive feedback from teachers are based on skill, enthusiasm and familiarity. As a result, muscular, physically skilled and competitive pupils profit at the expense of less able pupils, who are in greater need of attention," she says.
Teachers were confused about assessing practical performance, which makes up half the grade. The subjective assessment of performance caused some difficulties and may disadvantage girls. "Confusion existed as teachers were unaware whether differences between the sexes were to be taken into account during assessment," Ms Menzies says.
"Team games were found to be especially problematic in ensuring all pupils had the opportunity to display their skills."
Ms Menzies calls on the Scottish Qualifications Authority to explain why differences between the sexes should be taken into account as teachers found it hard to justify making allowances.
She backs single-sex classes to counter the negative effects of verbal harassment, although she recognises there may be organisational problems. If it proved impossible, schools ought to consider setting based on practical skills. Team teaching and smaller groups would also help.
Ms Menzies says PE teachers are among the least sensitive in allowing for equal opportunities and must be trained to spot their unintentional prejudices related to skills, physical capabilities and interests of boys and girls in their classes.
Her analysis of attainment in Standard grade PE shows the subject is increasingly popular and performance is rising steadily. Boys, however, are doing better in the 1990s and more boys than girls are taking the course. "Physical education has created a population of 'lost girls'," she concludes.
* Professor David Collins of Manchester Metropolitan University has been appointed as the first chair of sport at Edinburgh University, the only training base for physical education teachers. Moray House Institute merged with the university at the beginning of the month.