Teacher translates bilingual success

Studies show good exam results for boys and ethnic-minority pupils - but community language teaching is inadequate

Assumptions that boys and bilingual pupils do worse at exams are being challenged by a Glasgow teacher on the basis of his multi-ethnic school's results.

Surinder Bhopal, a biology teacher at Hillhead High in the west end of Glasgow, where pupils speak some 27 languages other than English and nearly 30 per cent of pupils are from ethnic minorities, found that boys were challenging girls' exam performance, particularly at Higher.

Likewise, some bilingual pupils appear to be performing better than their white, monolingual peers in maths and science.

Mr Bhopal's analysis of exam data from the Scottish Qualifications Authority, over 2003-05 showed that the bilingual pupils' performance had improved considerably in maths and science. Prior to 2003, bilingual pupils had been behind their white, monolingual peers in those subjects.

Chinese and Arab pupils' attainment was well above the norm, and Indian pupils also tended to be high performing. Some Pakistani pupils were also high achieving, despite the fact that traditionally these pupils tended to attain less well, he said.

Overall, girls performed better than boys at Standard grade in nearly all subjects. However, the ratio of males to females achieving top credit grades was very similar in many subjects. The attainment gap narrowed significantly at Higher, with boys doing better than girls in most subjects apart from history and English.

Mr Bhopal said: "Although as many boys as girls were attaining Credit 1 passes at Standard grade, apart from English and French, they were still not doing as well as girls overall. Surprisingly, boys caught up by S56, and performed about the same or slightly better than girls at Higher level, for example in the science subjects, mathematics and geography."

One possible explanation for the girls' better performance in S4 might be that the greater use of course work suited them better than the boys, he suggested.

Hillhead High has a higher proportion of boys than girls, and while this has been factored into the analysis, it has also been suggested that their greater weight of numbers may also be impacting on the boys' attainment.

Ken Cunningham, head of Hillhead High, said Mr Bhopal's analysis was helpful in identifying general areas and trends. "But at the end of the day, it points out that individuals are indeed very individual and, no matter what background they come from, they can succeed," he said.

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