Uncool to be smart

21st September 2001 at 01:00
Boys who work hard in class find themselves hitting an 'achivement ceiling'

BOYS face an "achievement ceiling" and daren't go further, according to more than half the pupils in a Scottish Executive-backed study into the growing gap in performance between girls and boys.

Boys who work hard are seen as "uncool" and fear friends will poke fun at them. The same pressure applies to only one in four girls. But the study rejects single-sex classes and calls for more subtle strategies.

The most extensive research yet in Scotland, carried out by the Centre for Educational Sociology at Edinburgh University, shows girls have been outperforming boys for more than 25 years but that social class remains a stronger factor.

Seventy-one per cent of pupils whose fathers are in a profession attained five or more credit awards at Standard grade, compared with 28 per cent of peers whose fathers were in unskilled manual jobs. The gap between girls and boys in terms of credit passes is only 11 per cent.

The researchers, Linda Croxford and Teresa Tinklin, will today (Friday) tell a conference on gender that focusing on boys in upper secondary may be too simplistic an approach and instead argue for a "which boys, which girls" strategy.

Ms Tinklin said: "Not all boys are underachieving and not all girls are doing well. Thinking about which boys and which girls are underachieving is a much more fruitful approach."

Dr Croxford said: "We thought that the gender gap in attainment was a recent phenomenon. So we were surprised to discover that in fact girls have been outperforming boys since 1975."

In 1970, slightly more boys than girls had three or more Highers but by 1981 the position was reversed and girls have maintained the advantage ever since. Factors that influence differences include:

* Teacher-pupil relationships and classroom interactions, learning styles, curriculum content and assessment methods.

* Attitudes and behaviour of peers, parents' attitudes to education, their views on gender roles and their own roles in the family and at work.

* Opportunities for young people post-school.

* Cultural views of male and female roles in the media, and existing inequalities in the family and workplace.

Teachers and pupils generally saw single-sex classes as beneficial but the researchers believe smaller classes were just as important.

In both primary and secondary, teachers have been encouraging boys to read more, raising awareness about gender differences among staff, involving pupils and parents, and considering the relationship between teaching and favoured learning styles.

"Teachers involved were generally enthusiastic about these approaches, which got away from viewing boys and girls as homogeneous groups and focused attention on to improving classroom practice for all pupils," the researchers say.

Using the noddle, page 4

Leader, page 22

"Gender and Pupil Performance in Scotland's Schools" can be found at www.ed.ac.ukCES.

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