Girl power falters

5th October 2007 at 01:00
Has the increase in ladette culture and the focus on boys to do better taken its toll on girls' performance?

EARLY SIGNS are emerging that girls' academic performance is dropping in relative terms, prompting education leaders to ask whether the efforts to encourage boys to do better have been detrimental to girls.

The emergence of a "ladette" culture is also being identified as a possible cause of falling attainment among some girls, particularly those at the GeneralCredit cusp.

Fife Council announced plans this week to investigate why girls' performance is dropping in some of its schools although overall its pupils' performance, particularly at 5-14 levels, has shown signifi-cant improvement.

Craig Munro, senior education manager with the council, said that in absolute terms, girls were still out-performing boys. But in relative terms, girls' performance was dipping.

Fife plans to set up a focus group to explore possible reasons for girls' poorer performance and to carry out some serious research into the issue.

The council's "target-setting" initiatives, which involve coaching and mentoring, identifying next steps, and remediation, might be having more impact on boys than girls, Mr Munro suggested.

Girls naturally tended to do their homework on time and think about what they had learnt, where-as boys needed more of a push. As the target-setting focus became more embedded in Fife schools, and boys were benefiting from the specific focus on tasks and aspects of their work, it was perhaps time to look at those schools where girls were performing well and apply their approaches elsewhere.

Mr Munro said his gut feeling, based on a little research, was that it was the girls capable of achieving two or three Highers whose performance was dipping not the most or least able.

National figures for SQA results suggested that girls' performance was dipping at the CreditIntermediate 2 level of exams those girls at the GeneralCredit threshold who would normally go on to further or higher education.

Better tracking of pupils has been identified as one of the main ways of raising attainment at both primary and secondary in Fife.

At 5-14, Fife pupils have shown improvements over the past eight years, but particularly in the last two years.

Mr Munro attributed that in large part to its standardised assessment through PIPS and SOSCA tests. But he also felt that the ability to benchmark Fife schools' attainment to other, similar schools was crucial.

He had welcomed the decision in 2004 by Peter Peacock, the then education minister, to drop the requirement on local authorities to submit information about pupils' attainment to the Scottish Executive. Central gathering of information had allowed the media to create "unhelpful" league tables, he said.

But the resulting lack of comparison data had left a gap, he said.

As a result, 23 authorities had set up a data-sharing partnership which they hope will improve benchmarking in future years, he said.

"When people know where they are in a fair and trans- parent framework, that can provide some impetus to do better," Mr Munro added.

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