Head girls

28th October 1994 at 00:00
Panorama:The future is female, BBC1, Monday, October 24. Boys are under-achieving and girls are racing away with the academic prizes, reported Panorama, in an edition which raised as many questions as it answered.

In an attempt to trace the roots of this imbalance, the programme tracked back from graduates to new-born babies, and at each developmental stage found the boys lagging behind the girls.

In secondary schools, in both arts and sciences, the programme showed that girls are outscoring their male peers. Looking for clues as to why this should be the case, the cameras visited the changing rooms of a school rugby team and found a thriving anti-academic culture, where completing homework was seen as distinctly uncool.

Although this macho dismissal of education might harm some young men's futures, it is hardly a new phenomenon. In fact it has almost certainly been the official peer-group position on homework since Thomas Arnold stopped the older boys from cooking the younger boys for entertainment. Looking and sounding far from disadvantaged, it would be surprising if some of these homework-rebels weren't themselves lined up for the changing rooms of higher education.

In primary school, boys again were found to be losing out, and the idea was canvassed that there was tacit parental approval for boys paying little heed to school.

By the time this whistle-stop tour had reached the cradle, an Illinois professor was on hand with a bank of monitors that allowed him to measure brainwaves and callibrate the intelligence of children. The commentary solemnly declared that this mass of wiring, attached to the heads of the children, could "read minds", with the cleverer thoughts coming from the girls.

So that's where the trail ended. No reference to social class or ethnicity, to name but two culturalcross winds. Intelligence, whatever that is, could be evaluated at birth using a big machine, and girls were ahead of the field from day one.

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, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today