Reports from the government, reinforced by the media have fuelled panic spreading through educational establishments and homes alike over the under-achievement of boys at school. The gender gap is apparently widening each year and more and more initiatives are being considered to counteract this imbalance. This essay will look at the differences between girls’ and boys’ academic achievements and examination results, and at some of the reasons for the differences. There has been a lot of research recently around the differences in attainment between girls and boys at school.
A few decades ago, research focused on how to make education more equal for girls, as Knopp Bilen and Pollard [Eds] (1993) describe, “Men, specifically white men, scored higher than women on standardized tests, did better in mathematics and science courses, and generally were more likely than females to obtain advanced academic degrees (p92). ” Alexander and Eckland (1974) also “showed that female status depressed education attainment” (cited in Wrigley 1992, p152).More recently, research shows a turnaround, where more girls than boys leave school with qualifications, more women have degrees and enter master’s programmes, and the gap between gender-linked specialized subjects seems to be disappearing too (Wrigley 1992). This seems unavoidable according to Epstein, Elwood, Hey and Maw (1998) “… it should be emphasised that raising levels of pupil achievement does not necessarily entail reducing educational inequalities, in fact, standards can rise while the equality gaps widens” (p.73).
So it seems that measures undertaken to improve opportunities for girls were extremely successful. Figures used to gauge the effectiveness of education and to draw comparisons between gender attainment are usually based on standard 5 GCSE, at grade C or above, otherwise known as the GCSE Benchmark (Gorard, Rees, and Salisbury, 1999). There are also assessments throughout a child’s educational life. “Academic achievement is the cornerstone of the educational enterprise.It is most often used as the basis for judging individual and systemic educational outcomes” (Knopp Bilen and Pollard 1993, p. 90). It is important to point out that not all results are comparable in format or source, as pointed out by Gorard, et al.
, (1999). Some figures do not take into account proportions, so, for example, a 40% male pass rate, might not be a true reflection of the fact that maybe there was a higher female participation. Salisbury et al., (1999) warn that when evaluating quantitative research figures, “if that quantitative framework is misconceived, then much of the research work may have attempted to explain a pattern that does, in fact, not exist” (p. 418). It is worthwhile considering these limitations when examining results and research figures. The first type of assessments in a child’s school life, the baseline assessments produce results that point to girls being more prepared for school life and “.
.. better equipped than boys to deal with school-type activities…
” (Salisbury, et al. 1999). However, when results are scrutinized, the only areas where noticeable differences exist are English, languages and humanities.
Boys and girls perform similarly in Mathematics and sciences, a trend that continues right up to GCSE level. The government’s own site “Gender and Achievement”, which discusses the problems of boys’ underachievement, lists results for the years 1997 to 2001, grouped according to Key Stage, up to GCSE. At Key stage 1, Level 2 and above, there are noticeable differences in writing performance only.At all other stages, including GCSE, the only area that shows any real difference is English. These figures are merely bar charts and are difficult to analyse or to compare with others, as they are not properly quantified. Nevertheless there are clear differences in results, albeit only in English. The Gorard et al, (1999) study also reveals that achievement gaps are noticeable in languages, humanities, and some design subjects, although the gap seems to increase only at higher levels of attainment.