Recently it has been argued that the underachievement of boys has been happening for many years (Epston, Elwood ET. Al. 1999), it was simply the fact that female students were prevented from entering schools that enable this to go unnoticed for so long. During the days of the 11 plus it was well documented that boys performed at a lower level than girls. More girls (nationally) obtained the highest marks in these examinations. A direct consequence of this was that girls had to do far better than boys in order to gain a place at grammar school. It was thought, at the time, although boys underachieved (compared to girls) in the 11 plus, their future educational potential was greater (Dillon and Maguire 1997). In today's schools and colleges underachievement of boys (compared with girls of the same age) would seem to be a nationwide. Many schools have adopted specific strategies in an attempt to tackle the problem. National daily newspapers regularly offer publicity to this issue (commonly referred to as the 'gender gap') as does the TES (TES 1999).
So why is there this sudden rush to address a problem that appears to have been with us for decades? One reason maybe that due to a decline in low skill manual jobs, which were traditionally male based, there is an increasing need for males to enter higher education in order to gain employment. I will attempt to focus on student's performances at both key stage 5 (institutions such as 6th forms or tertiary colleges) and higher educational institutions. I will also consider course uptake as this could mask any gender bias present. Firstly I will draw a comparison with any gender differences occurring in secondary education.
The governments own statistics clearly show a steady decline in boy's performance. In the 1990's boy's achievement across all school success criteria (five or more A* to C grades at GCSE, five or more at grades A* to G or one or more at grades A* to G) has been in decline (UK stat. 1992-1998). Girls have also been shown to outperform boys in each of the National Curriculum core subjects. cal1966, please do not redistribute this work. We work very hard to create this website, and we trust our visitors to respect it for the good of other students. Please, do not circulate this work elsewhere on the internet. Anybody found doing so will be permanently banned.
The most noticeable difference occurs in English. Here 42% of boys gain grades A* to C. In stark contrast 61% of girls gain grades A* to C in English. Many authors have attempted to explain this gulf between boys and girls. It is concluded that girls are more suited to the subject both through nature and nurture. A large part of this subject comprises course work (OHMCI 1997), it is suggested that girls have greater self-discipline than boys and thus are more suited to this and other homework tasks. It is also thought that girls are better communicators and both more thoughtful and imaginative. It has also been reported (Bray Et. Al.) that female embryos respond more favourably to sound than do male embryos. This suggests that girls are better equipped to develop both reading and language skills (sound based). Girls are also generally thought to be more focussed than boys. Girls are also more able to sit and read or discuss and debate than boys of the same age. The reason boys may lack these skills is that they have a lower attention and concentration span (OHMCI 1997). According to OHMCI 1997 "overall an important factor in explaining girls' superior performance in English... is their greater control over written language". The performance gap in modern foreign languages is close to that of English (UK stat 1992-1998). Again this is a communication based subject and so the points above could go some way towards explaining the "gender gap" here.
But what of the subjects that boys would be most suited to? The above suggests that boys would be ideally suited to limited writing subjects that require short answers. This would mean subjects like Maths, IT, technology or the sciences. Boys also have a more enquiring nature; they are more "risk taking" and more willing to take part in lessons and practical work. Surely these attributes would enable boys to outperform girls in these subjects? Unfortunately this has not been the case, recent results show that girls may now be outperforming boys in both maths and science. It is also worth noting that that there is no significant difference in IT or technology. (UK stat. 1992-1998). Science and maths results at key stage 3 are very similar for both boys and girls, but by key stage 4 a slight bias appears in favour of girls. Girls achieving better on average than boys in both maths and double award science. It is worth mentioning that in the case of science research has shown (TES 1998) that the idea of girls catching up arises from a too simplistic interpretation of the GCSE results. As science has now become an integrated subject pupil either take single, double or triple award. The choice of option varies between the sexes so a more in depth analysis of the results is needed. The research shows that more boys tend to opt for triple science than girls, and, that pupils taking triple science tend to be more able. Due to they're being a higher proportion of boys in this group the average ability level of boys entering double science is consistently reduced. The research also shows that because the final grade is an average over the 3 subjects (chemistry physics and biology) gender differences between individual subjects are hidden. Studies focusing on the percentage of pupils gaining a grade C in a coordinated science exam indicate a slight gender bias toward girls in biology (60% compared with 56%). There was no difference in chemistry (56%) but in physics the "gender gap" was larger, 60% of boys gaining grade C compared with 49% of girls.
The design of exams is another argument that has been put forward to explain the underachievement of boys. Recently a greater emphasis has been placed on course work or continuous assessment with less importance attached to the final exams. The quality of language has also become important in these final exams. These changes have been said to favour girls on all three counts. Completion of course work requires responsibility, organisation and self-discipline. Girls are regularly reported as being able to organise their time in relation to coursework. Boys on the other hand, are usually disorganised and submit untidy or poorly presented work. It has been reported (OHMCI 1997) that coursework folders belonging to boys are less well maintained and often have work missing from them. The 2 year time span of the GCSE would also appear to favour girls with many boys leaving work until the last possible moment (Harris, Nixon and Rudduck 1993). Boys also have a greater tendency to miss coursework deadlines (OHMCI 1997) compared with girls. So is this larger course work component the main reason for the "gender gap"? Visit coursework ac in ac fo ac for ac more hypothesis ac Do ac not ac redistribute
Some recent research that examined the proportion of coursework and resulting marks as the level of coursework declined. The WJEC did not notice any narrowing of the differences between boys and girls achievements as the amount of course work decreased. Close inspection of mark distributions for individual candidates suggested that course work made an increasing contribution as the grade of the candidate decreased. Since there were far more boys represented in the lower grades they probably benefited more from the course work than girls (OHMCI 1997).
Perhaps it is simply that girls are more suited to school life than boys. Girls mature earlier than boys, they have a more positive attitude to work and they also seem far more aware of there own career potential and how it relates to their learning. Currently the career aspirations of girls are usually very high (Bray Et. Al. 1997). In the case of boys, peer pressure often leads to a lack of education progress and the "lad culture" is clearly having a detrimental effect on boys' attitudes to school. The job market would also appear more inviting to girls and coupled with the lack of definite male role models it is not surprising that boys lack motivation when it comes to schoolwork. (Bray Et. Al. 1997). Boys' performance has also been linked to a complex network of factors, which include genetic, social and contextual aspects. This suggests that recent approaches to the problem have been too simplistic. Blame has also been place at the feet of both parents and teachers alike, parents encouraging boys to be boys and teachers treating them accordingly (Bray Et. Al. 1997).
The above overview briefly covers the gender gap at secondary level, but what of performances at 16+? Is the gender gap as pronounced here as at key stage 4? Little attention appears to have been paid to gender differences at this level. In my opinion, this appears to be an oversight considering the attention given to GCSE level. At this stage educational outcomes are often critical. The General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced (A) level is the main examination taken at post 16 level in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It has been called the "Gold standard" of qualifications (Elwood 1999). It is this qualification that will be examined for any gender differences, as whole and individual subjects will also be studied. For most A-level subjects there is a course work component that is teacher assessed, the rest of the mark coming from final written examinations at the end of the two-year course of study. Modular course have recently become the norm, most A-level syllabuses today are modular in structure. However, around 80% of syllabuses still require candidates to sit a final exam. The A-level is often associated with specialised vocabulary and thus requires a high degree of interpretation. The A-level assessment is focused on written exposition and the recall of procedures and knowledge (Elwood 1999). This has been contrasted with the requirements for students at GCSE level. The GCSE is more centred on coursework and other less traditional assessment techniques. Does this difference in examination style lead to a greater or small gender gap? Visit coursework fa in fa fo fa for fa more cours fa Do fa not fa redistribute
Let us examine some actual results from both male and female pupils. From 1990 to 1997 the gender gap in performance between boys and girls at A-level has been decreasing steadily; in 1990 2.8% more boys than girls gained grades A-C. But by 1997 girls were shown to be 1.2% A-C grades ahead (Elwood 1999). These figures imply that the performance of girls at 16 has begun to filter through to results obtained at 18. Indeed in 1999 18.1% of female candidates were awarded an A grade compared to 17.5% of males (Cassidy 2000).
As A-level subjects are optional choices differences in uptake will have a significant bearing on the identification of any gender gap. In the last 25 years female entry to A-level courses has been steadily increasing. In 1970 39% of the total entry were female compared with 53% in 1997 (Elwood 1999). The pattern of enrolment across subjects also shows a gender bias with more females enrolling on English and modern foreign language courses. Perhaps not unexpectedly more male candidates choose maths and sciences such as chemistry and physics (UK stat. 1992-1998). It is not uncommon for pupils to choose along quite stereotypical lines. Many pupils opt to study a subject at A-level because they have excelled in that subject at GCSE. So the higher percentage of females choosing language based subjects should not be that surprising (Pickard 2000). Last year three times as many males compared to females sat computing and physics A-levels and females outnumbered male by the same proportion in psychology, sociology and religious studies (Cassidy 2000).
These biased entry patterns reflect student's personal choices and the issue is currently under close scrutiny. During the last five years large amounts of publicity have been used to in an attempt to persuade more girls into science, engineering and technology subjects. Glossy pamphlets and posters aimed towards girls adorn most secondary school science labs. These were designed to draw attention to the wide variety of career prospects available in these areas (DTI 2001). Recently an article appeared in the Times Educational supplement (1998), this talked about "the many underlying causes of the continued sex differences in science uptake and performance in both further and higher education". Proposed causes for these differences include different attitudes towards future careers, outside school activities, the style of science teaching and the very nature of the subjects themselves. It should be noted that during this time overall (male and female) uptake for science subjects has been in decline. This can be put down to a more negative attitude towards science progress lower down the education system. But this decline has been greater in the case of girls. Visit coursework dg in dg fo dg for dg more dissertation dg Do dg not dg redistribute
How do male and female results compare subject to subject? Close examination of the available data shows a quite unexpected pattern of performance. Firstly, at higher grades (A-C) there is a smaller and less consistent gender gap than at GCSE (Elwood 1999). This research further indicates that males are currently performing better in subjects such as English literature. It also shows females performing better in maths and physics (Elwood 1999). This is quite a contrast to what is observed at GCSE. Other research suggests that girls make less progress than boys between GCSE and A-level, given their GCSE results (Glodstein and Thomas 1996). How can these results be explained? The simplest explanation comes from the differences in make up of cohorts of students that take particular A-levels. Elwood (1999) suggests that the reason males outperform females in English literature, (an increase of 1.9% difference for grades A-C between 1990-1997) is because the male entry to English literature is highly selective. This is indicative of a positive choice for males opting to take this subject at A-level. In other words Elwood is suggesting that males who choose to do this non-stereotypical subject have both a true interest and an ambition to succeed in it. Cassidy (2000) also supports this explanation by reporting that males were more likely to gain top grades in French and Spanish. Cassidy also draws attention to the fact that there were far fewer male entrants; 5224 in French compared to 12997 females. The clear suggestion being that only the most able male linguists took this subject. With maths and science the selective group of students are female. The results for chemistry and physics show a slight bias in favour of females (0.5% more grades A-C in chemistry and 1.5% more grades A-C for physics). Direct comparison is more complex here because of the integration of the subjects at GCSE (see earlier). In the case of mathematics the research shows that in 1997 females were slightly outperforming males (0.7% more grades A-C). At this time boys at GCSE were slightly outperforming girls by around 0.1% (grades A*-C). It should be noted that this is no longer the case at GCSE.
These 3 examples do suggest small gender differences at A-level. The "crossover" effect should also be noted as this leads to more selective entry in gender-biased subjects. This has also been reported in Scotland (Pickard 2000).coga gar segagaw orga gak inga foga ga.
Many suggestions have been put forward in an attempt to explain these patterns of results at A-level. The main reason proposed is the gender difference in uptake or entry. This enrolment differential has named "restrictive sampling" (Willingham and Cole 1997). This means that the student populations who take the A-level examinations are not truly representative of the national 18-year-old cohort, and so not from the full ability range. A level exams are self-selective and are choose by candidates with a higher than average ability therefore they are not characteristic of a general sample of students of similar age. Clearly (1992) and Willingham and Cole (1997) have all suggested that once a sample includes only students from the upper end of a grade distribution, gender performance will greatly depend on the male to female ratio. They point out that overall the statistics of the sample will influence gender differences more than any other factor. These problems in gender enrolment are further magnified from subject to subject. The difference in the uptake of male and female students for certain subjects is vast. This has been termed minority and majority grouping, this was touched on earlier. For physics and maths the majority group is male (~80%) the minority group is female (~20%). In English literature the groupings are almost reversed with females make up ~70% of the entry and males ~30%. These groupings have also been termed "voluntary minorities" (Tobin 1996) as they are made up of self-selecting students who choose a subject that is not typical of their gender. Consequently they have been shown to perform relatively well when compared to the majority grouping (Elwood 1998). This is thought to be because they have an interest in the chosen subject and are therefore more committed to learning and understanding it (Elwood and Comber 1996). In the case of English it has be observed that a male who chooses it often chooses it as his first choice, rather than a second or third choice subject. This is not the case for females who choose English (Elwood 1998). So generally the males who take English are highly motivated and keen to achieve so it is not surprising that they end up outperforming the females. Their minority grouping in English compounds this fact.
Differences in the examination itself have also sighted as an explanation of the gender differences. A-level assessment is dominated by the a final exam sat at the end of the 2 years of study, as mentioned earlier, this is suggested to favour males. The introduction of more modular courses (perhaps more suited to females) could be a reason for improved female performance at A-level. The style of the actual examination has also been questioned. Elwood and Comber (1996) suggest the A-level exam style differs markedly from that at GCSE. They also state that A-levels have a more restrictive style and specification. The case of English, where males obtain better grades, is limited in its choice of text and variety of question; it therefore requires a more abstract and analytical method of thinking. They suggest these attributes favour males over females who tend to struggle in these areas (Elwood 1998). It is argued that a flair for text and more analytical discussion is required. This is very different from the requirements of GCSE. Male students tend to write less, keep more to the point and have more confidence in their views. Females, on the other hand, tend to write more at length and lack the confidence to discard irrelevant material; hence, females performed worse at A-level (Elwood 1999). This example can be thought to suggest that teachers regard the differing success of males and females (at A-level) in a different way than they do at GCSE. This difference in attitudes could be having some impact on performance. The language used to describe a good GCSE student compared with the language used to describe a good A-level student further illustrates this point. At GCSE hard work is rewarded along with organisation and communication skills. At A-level words used to refer to a good student tend to be flair or unique. Attributes usually associated with males. Overall the research suggests that the style of examination at GCSE tends to reward the aspects of communication and work preferred by females whereas at A-level a more analytical style is rewarded, usually preferred by males. This might even account for girls' performance at GCSE. Visit coursework eb in eb fo eb for eb more coursework eb Do eb not eb redistribute
The link between personality and attainment at A-level has also been examined. Most teachers consider males to be more confident and positive, males are also thought to have more faith in their own ability ("risk taking"). Females are thought to be less confident, more anxious and having less faith in their ability (Elwood 1999). This has been further emphasised by Summerfield and Youngman (1999), who found identifiable clusters of students who exhibit distinct patterns of relationship between personality, self-conception and attainment. They report that at A-level low attaining students fall into two distinct categories. Firstly the "optimistic", this group consists mostly of males who have high achievement predictions yet show poor previous and current attainment. The second group (mostly female) usually contains the best-qualified students on entry. But, perhaps through lack of confidence, their performance shows slow deterioration over the length of the course. The personality factor is summed up by Wiseman 1973 "success in the educational obstacle race may well have far less to do with intellectual ability than the type of person the competitor is".
Gender and performance at A-level is a complex issue and certainly does not depend on just one single cause. In recent years the gender gap between boys and girls has been decreasing with girls outperforming boys for the first time. Reason proposed in explanation of this phenomena include the modular system, ambition and career options for females and decreased job optimism for males. These statistics should not be taken at face value. The ratio of male to female in enrolment has been shown to alter the outcome. Therefore, at A-level, where students exercise a great deal of choice, entry gaps tend to be larger, whilst the attainment gaps tend to be smaller than at GCSE (ACCAC 2000). Several suggestions have been made by Elwood (1999) to counter any gender bias. Firstly, to overcome traditional patterns of entry it is suggested that A-level options should be more focused along with policies giving prospective students advice. Through timetable restraints it is suggested that there is no real choice and this simply reinforces traditional subject patterns. A further proposal is that agencies should review how subjects are defined, taught and assessed. It can be argued that changing the image of a subject would alter its proposed level of difficulty, and as seen above attitude is all-important. The link between a subject and the world outside of education could also emphasised perhaps giving students a clearer idea of why education is worthwhile. Assessment strategies could also be examined perhaps giving empowering students and enabling them to play to their strengths in a particular subject.
The GCE A-level has possibly the greatest social consequences of any qualification taken within the UK. More research is needed to ensure all students (both male and female) perform to the best of their ability on a level playing field.
1) ACCAC (2000). Asking questions and getting answers. The comparative performances of boys and girls in Wales
2) Bray R., Downes P., Gardener C., Hannan G., Parsons N., (1997) Can boys do better?
3) Cassidy S., (2000) Girls take more top grades for the first time. Times educational supplement
4) Cleary T., (1992) Gender differences in aptitude and test scores.
5) Department of Trade and Industry, (2001) women into science and engineering.
6) Dillon J. and Maguire M., (1997) Becoming a teacher issues in secondary education.
7) Elwood J., (1998) Gender and performance in the GCE A-level examination, University of London.
8) Elwood J. (1999). The curriculum j. 10, No.2, 189
9) Elwood J. and Comber C. (1996) Gender differences in examinations at 18+ London Institute Of Education.
10) Epstein D., Elwood J., Hey V., and Maw J., (1999) Failing Boys Issues in Gender and achievement.
11) Goldstein H. and Thomas S. (1996) using examination results as indicators of school and college performance.
12) UK statistics for Wales from http://education.wales.gov.uk
13) Harris S., Nixon J. and Rudduck J. (1993) Schoolwork, homework and gender. Gender in education 5, No.1, 3.
14) OHMCI (Cardiff) (1997) Standards and quality in secondary schools: the relative performance of boys and girls.
15) Pickard W. (2000) Boys still get a better deal on jobs. TES
16) Summerfield M. and Youngman M. (1999) British J.of Ed. Psychology 69, 173
17) TES (1998) Girls still lag behind in science march 6,23
18) TES (1999) Rogue males. Jan. 1,9
19) Tobin K. (1996) Gender, equality and the enacted science curriculum. London
20) Willingham W. and Cole N. (1997) gender and fair assessment Mahwah N.J. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
21) Wiseman S. (1973) The educational obstacle race: factors that hinder pupil progress. Education research 15,87