GIRLS, to coin a phrase, have been outstripping boys for more than 25 years, an Edinburgh University study on gender and attainment has discovered (page one). It is indeed amazing how long it has taken this penny to drop. Primaries and secondaries have made strenuous efforts to raise boys' attainment but it is something of a surprise to learn that the trends have been evident since the Callaghan Labour government of the mid-70s. Perhaps it was due in part, as the researchers suggest, to the greater opportunities, equalities and confidence promoted by the women's movement.
Schools themselves are unrecognisable from the service provided in the mid-70s and 20 years on were moving in a focused direction aimed at raising overall attainment in an era of performance indicators, increased inspection, league tables and increased accountability, most of which were controversial and contested. The educational agenda changed markedly in the mid-90s and the pace has been unrelenting since. There has never been such national attention paid to school improvement, a fact that probably explains teachers' recent awareness of issues such as gender and why boys are slipping farther behind girls.
In keeping with sharply increased public scrutiny, the profession has moved a long way in terms of improvements to learning and taken readily to the mass of emerging evidence on learning styles, classroom interactions and techniques to improve pupil performance. Teachers want to do the best by their pupils and most appreciate the need to update skills and knowledge. They have, for example, tested initiatives on reducing the gap between girls' and boys' performance, well aware that boys, as the research shows, tend to be "ill-prepared, competitive, disruptive, over-confident, and inattentive in class".
Teachers, the study concludes, are on the right lines in deploying a variety of learning strategies when, after all, social class is a greater factor in underachievement than gender. At least that hasn't changed since Jim Callaghan's day.