Boys deserve better

1st December 2006 at 00:00
Imagine yourself at the controls of a digger. With your right hand, you're able to lift the boom and manoeuvre the bucket in a scooping motion. With your left, you can extend the boom and slew the arm both ways.

Using a combination of these, you can make the bucket dig, lift, scrape and push earth around. Using two of a set of three levers, you can drive the tracks forwards and backwards and, with the third lever, you can lift the dozer bar which stabilises the digger and can be used for levelling.

If you are still reading, you may be finding it hard to apply the description to the reality of working the machine and thinking that it would be easier to follow if you were sitting in it. Then the operation would become simple and you could scoop, dig, scrape and level to your heart's content - or not, depending on your gender.

It would be too much of a sweeping generalisation to say that males, with their preference for activities which engage the left side of the brain, faced with learning to manipulate complex controls, would acquit themselves with greater skill than females.

However, there are some undisputed facts about the way in which boys and girls behave from an early age.

Parents would not dream of keeping their son cooped up all day, forced to remain quietly seated during a number of hated tasks and expected to be well behaved. But they accept without question that this is what he has to do at school, and worry when they get reports from his teachers that he will do anything to distract and delay the inevitability of putting pencil to paper.

How much more welcome a report that daughters are willing to sit, listen without interrupting or entertaining classmates with clowning and then apply themselves to the ubiquitous, written follow-up activity.

As long as we continue to force kids to produce the modern equivalent of ye olde English in copperplate writing, the gender issue will persist in relation to under-achieving boys. Opportunities have long existed, and there are plenty of ideas in these pages, to help committed teachers cater for different learning styles.

It is time to move on from arguments about why we should or should not adapt the curriculum to better suit the needs of boys and just do it.

Secondary teachers I talked to recently would welcome a cold, hard look at timetabling, reducing the length of periods and the consequent stress on teachers and pupils. Collectively, we also need to stop paying lip-service in applying ICT to learning across the curriculum and put our money where the Scottish Executive's mouth has been for too long.

The constraints are obvious. The pressure from above on schools to jump through the hoops of national assessments and SQA exams, requiring demonstration of knowledge through extended writing skills, makes it difficult to break free of traditional curriculum planning and teaching approaches. Eternally reducing budgets would require a degree of prioritising in favour of expensive technology - something of a challenge for school managers.

Instead of being seduced into more of the same as we implement A Curriculum for Excellence, with its emphasis on strengthening literacy and numeracy skills, let's grasp the nettle and make the gender gap in Scotland a thing of the past.

Joan Fenton is headteacher of Dyce Primary in Aberdeen

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