Closing the Gap Between Boys and Girls
This report commissioned by the Welsh Assembly Government, presents findings from 2006 – 2008 relating to closing the gap between boys’ and girls’ attainment in schools. It is based on inspection reports and/or investigating schools with high GCSE results for boys and girls, data and document scrutiny, and what is described as “a review of recent research” . There are seven ‘case studies’ exemplifying successful practice, outlining the school strategies which appear to have improved boys’ achievement and attainment. The stated aim (or “challenge”) of the report is to spread such practices more widely and consistently across schools, in order to improve boys’ attainment “to help boys and girls achieve their potential” (p2). Following an analysis of statistical data on the attainment gap, the main bulk of the report is organised in sections relating to questions which may arise from this:
- Why do girls do better at school than boys?
- Why does the attainment gap increase as pupils get older?
- What are the barriers to raising the attainment of boys?
- What are the strategies in schools that are proving effective in raising the attainment of boys?
- How are local education authorities trying to improve boys’ attainment?
There are twelve listed main findings, which range from statistics on attainment data, to possible causes of and ‘remedies’ for the gender gap. Causes offered are boys’ poor level of literacy, and negative peer pressure, and schools’ “use of too limited a range of strategies to cater for the differences between boys and girls of the same age in terms of their overall maturity and capability as individual learners” (p4). Although the first part of this sentence might suggest the notion of a binary divide related to gender, it appears overall to be promoting a personalised approach to learning, i.e. a focus on individual learners’ more complex needs. It is also stated that “Schools that are the most successful do not treat all boys the same” (p5); however, the language used in describing the strategies employed by ‘successful’ schools does reflect a more simplistic boy/girl divide. One of these, challenging “stereotypical attitudes of masculinity” is exemplified by giving “boys more opportunities to exercise control” (p5). Another suggestion is “challenging stereotypical perceptions and making changes to the curriculum (including) providing more of the practical and vocational courses that many boys find interesting” (p4). It is not always clear where the evidence has arisen for many of the statements within the report, therefore there is a danger that they appear as truisms or common-sense assertions. Of interest and consideration as we look at how and what we teach is the evidence provided by recent research (examples of which are in brackets); amongst others, the claims that coursework presents a particular challenge for boys (p21) (see Elwood 2005); boys prefer reading non- fiction (p17) (see Moss and McDonald 2004); competitive activities appeal particularly to boys (p22) (see Jackson 2006); boys and girls have inherently different learning styles (p18) (see Younger and Warrington 2005). In light of this and other recent research on the gender gap, the following statement, “There is a considerable degree of consensus about the types of learning and teaching that appeal to boys” (p4). Perhaps most pertinent here would be Skelton and Francis’ (2007) finding, that: “It is in schools where gender constructions are less accentuated that boys tend to do better – and strategies that work to reduce constructions of gender difference that are most effective in facilitating boys’ achievement”.