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Individuals all

Belying their stern image, the Victorians, too, were worried about the pressure of tests on children. But their concerns were only for girls.

Although a national education commission in 1868 concluded that girls were intellectually as capable as boys (see page 5), its members thought the female constitution too "excitable" and "sensitive" for the stress of exams.

Apart from a few decades of the 20th century, it has been taken for granted that girls and boys are different. The Victorian commission pinpointed separate but equal strengths. Today, scientific research also highlights gender differences. But individuals come with a range of characteristics.

The point is not, as feminists used to argue, that boys and girls are born the same, but that no child should be held back from their aspirations.

That goes for boys who want to sing in the choir (see page 5) as well as girls who aim to be rocket scientists.

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