Let's hear it from the boys
GLASGOW BOYS are catching up on girls - and, in some cases, surpassing them - when it comes to exam results, new analysis by city education officials shows.
Figures for last year show that in eight out of 10 exam indicators, Glasgow's performance was the best it had ever been - or equalled a previous best. Boosting the attainment of boys is seen as holding the key to driving up standards in the the city still further.
The council's education committee heard yesterday that S56 boys outperformed girls in the number who achieved Higher A passes in English, maths, biology, chemistry, physics, history, administration, music and PE.
Nationally, boys outperformed girls at the same level in only five subjects - French, biology, chemistry, human biology, and computing.
By contrast, Glasgow girls outperformed boys at Standard grade Credit level in every subject except PE - a pattern which occurs nationally. The gap is closest in maths, biology and chemistry and widest in English, modern languages, geography, history, administration, art and design, and drama.
John McDonald, head of secondary schools in Glasgow, is quick to stress the old adage that "one swallow does not a summer make", but suggests that the raft of measures employed in recent years is beginning to bear fruit.
Pat McDade, the council's English adviser, has been concentrating considerable efforts on the transition from Standard grade to Higher, focusing on fiction that may be more attractive to boys.
Mr McDonald admits that progress has been "like pushing a boulder uphill", but that boys are getting better at reading.
Efforts are also being made to encourage boys to talk more as part of their English lessons. One theory is that boys tend to perform less well in Standard grade English exams because talk is one of the elements, along with folio work and internal assessments - all areas which seem to appeal to girls.
At Higher, the argument runs, boys do better because talk is no longer assessed as part of the exam and they tend to do better at external exams.
Mr McDonald adds that boys' Higher results are better in S6 than S5, particularly for those gaining three-plus and five or more Highers, indicating perhaps that they struggle with the "two-term" dash to Highers.
With this in mind, four secondaries - All Saints', Govan, Eastbank and Shawlands - have this year embarked on an early start to Standard grade in most subjects in S2.
Jackie Purdie, who became head of Bannerman High two-and-a-half years ago, has employed a number of approaches, such as individual target-setting, to raise boys' attainment. But a key stratagem is to use her weekly assemblies to inform pupils about their progress and to challenge boys to do better.
"I went through the exam results showing the boys the differences and said to them: 'I don't believe that girls are more intelligent than boys.'"
Ms Purdie has also run workshops for the parents of boys from S3 upwards, giving them pointers on how to assist them.
There has been a significant improvement in boys' results at Bannerman. In 2005, 35 per cent of girls gained five-plus Standard grades at Credit, compared to 18 per cent of boys; in 2006, the gap was all but eliminated - 32.3 per cent of girls compared to 31.8 per cent of boys.
Among those achieving five-plus Highers, there was a four per cent gap between girls' and boys' performance in 2005; last year, that had narrowed to 2.2 per cent.
At Shawlands Academy, there has been a steady overall improvement in the last five years. But Ken Goodwin, the headteacher, believes that, in a school as multicultural as his, gender differences alongside ethnicity and social background were just as important.
It was that kind of analysis which helped his staff identify girls in one particular ethnic group who were under-achieving significantly. "A priority given to teaching certificate classes has been to minimise the number of unnecessary interruptions and ensure a variety of approaches were being used," he says. "A lot of stuff has been done about boys' and girls'
preferred learning techniques, but the trick is to have a combination of both."