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Head girls

Panorama:The future is female, BBC1, Monday, October 24. Boys are under-achieving and girls are racing away with the academic prizes, reported Panorama, in an edition which raised as many questions as it answered.

In an attempt to trace the roots of this imbalance, the programme tracked back from graduates to new-born babies, and at each developmental stage found the boys lagging behind the girls.

In secondary schools, in both arts and sciences, the programme showed that girls are outscoring their male peers. Looking for clues as to why this should be the case, the cameras visited the changing rooms of a school rugby team and found a thriving anti-academic culture, where completing homework was seen as distinctly uncool.

Although this macho dismissal of education might harm some young men's futures, it is hardly a new phenomenon. In fact it has almost certainly been the official peer-group position on homework since Thomas Arnold stopped the older boys from cooking the younger boys for entertainment. Looking and sounding far from disadvantaged, it would be surprising if some of these homework-rebels weren't themselves lined up for the changing rooms of higher education.

In primary school, boys again were found to be losing out, and the idea was canvassed that there was tacit parental approval for boys paying little heed to school.

By the time this whistle-stop tour had reached the cradle, an Illinois professor was on hand with a bank of monitors that allowed him to measure brainwaves and callibrate the intelligence of children. The commentary solemnly declared that this mass of wiring, attached to the heads of the children, could "read minds", with the cleverer thoughts coming from the girls.

So that's where the trail ended. No reference to social class or ethnicity, to name but two culturalcross winds. Intelligence, whatever that is, could be evaluated at birth using a big machine, and girls were ahead of the field from day one.

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