Gender gap is here to stay

21st January 2005 at 00:00
Time, money and effort spent on schemes to close the attainment gap between boys and girls in the UK is wasted, according to a new book.

Stephen Gorard, education professor at York university, has used international data on educational attainment to show that boys fail to match girls' achievements regardless of how they are taught.

Girls were better at reading than boys in all the countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to research carried out in 2000.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) research, he says, also shows that the number of single-sex schools in a country has nothing to do the size of the gap. In the European Union, Finland has the biggest gap and Denmark the lowest, but neither have any single sex schools.

In "Gender in education 3-19", his chapter in the book, Professor Gorard writes: "If the differences between males and females are universal, then they are unlikely to be the result of culturally specific, or even pedagogic changes.

"The differences occur in very different education systems. Any plausible explanation for the apparent underachievement of boys must, therefore, transcend all of these differences. This means, of course, that a lot of money, time and effort is currently being wasted in the UK by schemes to overcome the attainment gap."

He goes on to analyse the UK gender gap in pupils achieving five A*-C GCSEs or equivalent using it to challenge the "dominant account" that boys were once ahead, but girls have overtaken them and that the gap is widening.

Instead, data from 1975 onwards shows a gap with girls scoring around 2 per cent higher than boys remaining relatively static until 19889. In that year GCSEs were introduced, grade inflation began, coursework increased and a move was made from norm to criterion referencing. This was followed by a sudden increase to around 10 per cent, the size of the gap ever since.

Professor Gorard argues that it cannot be explained by laddishness, truancy, seating arrangements or new teaching methods. Instead, in an apparent contradiction of his point that the gap transcends differences in assessment, he suggests it is: "A product of the changed system and nature of assessments rather than any more general failing of boys, their ability, application, or the competence of those who teach them."

Hilary Claire, editor of the book, said the concentration on boys' under achievement meant hidden problems such as the choices made by girls in post-16 education were neglected. They still tended not to opt for "boys subjects" such as maths and science.

Gender in education 3 to 19. A fresh approach,is published by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers next week

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