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Win-win in Hawick's gender issue

It is good to hear boys are outshining girls in Hawick (Scotland Plus, pages 2-3) - only joking really. But the relentlessly gloomy emphasis on boys'

learning problems is, almost refreshingly, not what is preoccupying the town's high school: the challenge for Peter Peacock's alma mater is what to do about the girls. Like all schools, and schools of ambition, the prize awaiting Hawick High is high attainment, achievement and expectations. But that cannot be realised if the girls are not "girls of ambition".

The macho culture of Hawick is being fingered as one of the culprits but, in such a complex area as differences in performance between the sexes, there are other factors - from girls' employment prospects to such a suprisingly key learning influence as class seating arrangements.

But are we becoming too obsessed with gender differences (it became an issue, let us not forget, only when boys started falling behind - itself a notable form of sexism)? There is an argument for saying that if a school concentrates on improving its leadership, its learning practices and its pupils' motivation, it should be a win-win result for everybody - boys and girls. Funnily enough, that appears to be what Hawick High is about, the difference being that it hopes the beneficiaries will be girls rather than, as in most other places, boys.

So the answer should be about improving the overall learning experience of all pupils, while of course taking into account the fact that boys and girls may learn in different ways. Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, was right in his Donald Dewar Memorial Lecture last week to highlight underachievement among boys. He was right to stress that it was not just a learning problem. And he was right to suggest that the "great objective"

was not just solving the gender conundrum but, as many schools are recognising, to do so by bringing out the potential in all children.

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