Matters of sex

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
GENDER IN THE SECONDARY CURRICULUM. Edited by Ann Clark and Elaine Millard. Routledge. Pounds 15.99.

No glib "how-to-do-it" manual, this detailed and wide-ranging book is an illuminating definition of the issues, review of research and practical analysis of how things have become the way they are.

Concepts of "gendered identities" and "sex role socialisation" are effectively explored, and there is a practical emphasis on the "interface between gender and other variables". The statistical analyses are revealing, and the book stresses: "It is the meaning drawn from different patterns of failure which will provide a sound rationale for intervention."

Differences in language learning, for instance, are thoroughly explored in the teaching of English, approaches to reading, and foreign languages. The special relevance of reading confidence to so many aspects of the curriculum is clearly brought out, including the effects of a restricted range of texts.

A fascinating analysis of group discussion dubs many girls "safe-betters" and boys "risk-takers". The gender differences in the way we encourage "reading for learning" are important. Other differences are found in a range of subjects from science to physical education (which Alan Skelton suggests is becoming "eclipsed by sport").

Two major aspects of gender and schooling remain unexplored. Ethnicity is interestingly touched on, but there is no mention of the striking variation in girlboy achievement across ethnic groups. Moroccan and Bangladeshi communities in the United Kingdom, for instance, have girls ahead of boys to an extent well above the mean. Why is that?

The editors also properly criticise us for letting the national curriculum narrow "the purposes of education". They fall into that trap themselves by dividing the curriculum into "subjects", and failing to consider the overall planning and delivery. In fact, the law requires schools to devise their own curriculum to prepare pupils for "the opportunities, responsibilities, and experiences of adult life". The writers do not focus on gender differences in that overarching requirement.

The 15 contributors from Sheffield University have helped secondary schools greatly in this study. It will illuminate self-scrutiny and forward-planning.

Michael Marland is headteacher of North Westminster Community School, central London, and general editor of Heinemann's School Organisation series

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