GIRLS' exam superiority over boys disguises the fact that those girls who do worst at school suffer disproportionately. New research on gender differences shows that they have more difficulty in finding employment than boys.
A study ordered by the Scottish Executive found "a considerable gap between girls who left with slightly better Standard grades and the low attainers, who achieved less than low-attaining young men".
Andy Biggart, the researcher, formerly of the Centre for Educational Sociology at Edinburgh University and now at the University of Ulster, also reports that among girls differences between high and low achievers are more obvious.
"They appeared to form a more distinct group compared to the better qualified young women, and had the most deprived social backgrounds. They received less parental encouragement and were much more likely to truant and hold negative attitudes towards school and the teachers."
Most men with a poor educational background find some kind of full-time employment but young women are often excluded from the start and many leave the labour market, for example to start a family early.
Mr Biggart found that just over half of young people of both sexes who were low attainers in S4 (gaining no Standard grades 1 to 3) achieved further qualifications by the time they were 18 or 19. Contrary to previous assumptions, those who stayed in full-time education were more likely to get another qualification than those in trining or employment.
Another paper in the research series, which began last year with a report on school-leavers entering higher education, concentrates on high-attaining girls. Teresa Tinklin and Linda Croxford, of the Centre for Educational Sociology, found that the genders perform similarly in S5 and S6. Girls' superiority starts earlier in school and carries over.
In the upper school, traditional differences in subject choice appear, having been hidden earlier by the breadth of the Standard grade courses most pupils followed. Girls opt less for mathematics and the sciences, preferring the arts and social subjects, which are more popular choices for higher education.
It is therefore possible that the lower uptake of university places by girls with qualifications equal to those of boys is because of the greater difficulty in getting a place.
The research paper concludes: "For boys the emphasis needs to be on finding ways to raise their S4 attainment and thereafter encouraging them to stay on at school. While for girls the focus needs to be on their post-16 choices and on raising awareness of the implications of their subject choices."
Leader, page 14
The two Scottish School Leavers Survey studies, Gender and Low Achievement and High-attaining Female School Leavers, are available from the Dissemination Officer, SEED Research Unit, Victoria Quay, Edinburgh and will be put on its website soon (http:www.hmis.scotoff.gov.ukriu).