Girls left behind in the gym by bias to boys

14th August 1998 at 01:00
IF GIRLS want to succeed in physical education at Standard grade they need to act like boys - being aggressive and competitive. Boys give them stick in mixed classes because of their physical appearance and relative lack of skill.

A case study by Jennifer Menzies, a PE teacher at Dunfermline High, found girls needed to be skilled and confident in practical parts of the course to achieve Credit grades. Boys consistently outperformed girls at Standard grade PE, the only subject in the curriculum at which they do.

Ms Menzies seeks to explain the reasons for the substantial variations in the Scottish Journal of Physical Education. Her small-scale study found that teachers favour boys, who are more often selected to demonstrate. "Conditions for positive feedback from teachers are based on skill, enthusiasm and familiarity. As a result, muscular, physically skilled and competitive pupils profit at the expense of less able pupils, who are in greater need of attention," she says.

Teachers were confused about assessing practical performance, which makes up half the grade. The subjective assessment of performance caused some difficulties and may disadvantage girls. "Confusion existed as teachers were unaware whether differences between the sexes were to be taken into account during assessment," Ms Menzies says.

"Team games were found to be especially problematic in ensuring all pupils had the opportunity to display their skills."

Ms Menzies calls on the Scottish Qualifications Authority to explain why differences between the sexes should be taken into account as teachers found it hard to justify making allowances.

She backs single-sex classes to counter the negative effects of verbal harassment, although she recognises there may be organisational problems. If it proved impossible, schools ought to consider setting based on practical skills. Team teaching and smaller groups would also help.

Ms Menzies says PE teachers are among the least sensitive in allowing for equal opportunities and must be trained to spot their unintentional prejudices related to skills, physical capabilities and interests of boys and girls in their classes.

Her analysis of attainment in Standard grade PE shows the subject is increasingly popular and performance is rising steadily. Boys, however, are doing better in the 1990s and more boys than girls are taking the course. "Physical education has created a population of 'lost girls'," she concludes.

* Professor David Collins of Manchester Metropolitan University has been appointed as the first chair of sport at Edinburgh University, the only training base for physical education teachers. Moray House Institute merged with the university at the beginning of the month.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today