The worry of the sexes

20th January 2006 at 00:00
Research reveals gender division in typical patterns of stress among pupils, reports Adi Bloom

Teenager Marcus Stables only listens to his teachers for half of each lesson. The 15-year-old pupil at Darton high school, in Barnsley, has established a careful lesson-time balance.

"I spend half the lesson talking and half the lesson working," he said. "I don't work as hard as I could because I want to be liked. Talking in lessons gets you more mates."

His experience has been backed up by research that challenges assumptions that it is girls who are preoccupied with friendships and social acceptance.

The study by Alison Owen-Yeates, a south Wales teacher, reveals that only 1 per cent of girls worry about getting along with other students, compared with 18 per cent of boys.

Girls are more anxious about exams, revision and academic results than boys. Almost nine out of 10 found exams stressful, while more than half (57 per cent) worried about not being able to do the work. By contrast, fewer than 70 per cent of boys worried about exams.

Philip May, head of Costessey high, in Norfolk, agrees with the findings.

"Well-organised boys in Year 11 tend to be in the minority," he said.

"Well-organised girls are in the majority. Because they are more mature, girls know what they want to do next year. Boys don't know. They are less clued up, so social groups continue to be their priority."

Andrew Martin, head of history at Jo Richardson community school, in Essex, also believes the clique-driven stereotype is more accurately applied to boys. "Boys want to fit in," he said. "They want to be cool. They worry that if they spend time in the library and don't play sport, or whatever is in, they won't be seen as cool."

Graham Simpson, assistant head at Wildern comprehensive, in Hampshire, agreed. "The sense of belonging is humanistic," he said. "But boys look at who wants to be top dog or alpha male."

Chrissie Yates, Marcus's head of English, has had several girls approach her this term, anxious about their impending GCSEs. No boys have spoken to her yet.

"Girls take everything on," she said. "It builds up and up until they have all kinds of physical ailments because of stress. I have had girls crying in my office. Men tend to compartmentalise."

So, while Marcus leaves his coursework until the week it is due, his classmate Kia Sheldon, 16, is less sanguine.

"I worry I'm going to fall behind," she said. "It makes me panic, and gives me a headache. Then I can't do anything, and I can't concentrate on anything.

"If you don't get your coursework right, it can affect you forever. But boys don't realise that - they just want to mess around."

The study was based on responses from 140 Year 11 pupils, 64 of them girls and 76 boys. The pupils, from a south Wales comprehensive, were each given a questionnaire listing 30 elements of school life and asked to tick which made them nervous or upset.

* adi.bloom@tes.co.uk

"Stress in Year 11 Students" is published in the journal Pastoral Care in Education: Vol 23; No 4

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