Gender is not the only factor

2nd June 2006 at 01:00
f little boys are made of "snips and snails and puppy dogs' tails", while little girls are "sugar and spice and all things nice", how far should teaching practice be differentiated to meet each group's needs? The latest review of gender inequalities in Scottish schools, by a team of researchers from Strathclyde and Glasgow universities, poses some conundrums for the classroom practitioner (page six).

On the one hand, there is an oblique warning that forthcoming equality legislation could place a duty on education authorities to ensure they take gender differences into account. On the other hand, the report warns that past practice has tended to stereotype the way boys learn. The researchers observe that most schools cloak their treatment of boys' and girls' different learning patterns under the heading of social inclusion. But is this so very wrong? Is there not an argument for looking at each pupil as an individual and analysing what teaching or learning style suits that pupil, regardless of gender. That insufficient teachers have received, or sought, the professional development allowing them to offer the right kind of mix of styles, so that there is something for everyone in the classroom, is perhaps more of an issue.

In recent years, a small number of schools have created single-gender classes, usually in response to boys' underachievement or poor behaviour.

Where the experiments have been successful, we are left with the impression that this is because the best teachers have been allocated to these classes. In one of its most telling findings, the report states: "For both boys and girls, their relationship with the teacher and the ability of the teacher to motivate them was more important than the form of classroom organisation that was adopted."

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