Gender Hysteria: 2010 Examination Results

Once more, the annual hysteria around exam results is upon us in the UK, and as journalist Lucy Tobin puts it the gender debate that has been simmering for the last few years is set to ignite. Generally, gender in respect of education has come to mean the gap between girls’ and boys’ examination performance, usually in favour of girls, and consequent concerns for the ‘underperformance’ of boys.  Lucy Tobin writing in the Guardian newspaper therefore asks whether the switch away from coursework in GCSE, say for maths, will see the gap narrowing.  For instance she gives the following example:

While girls still outperform boys in the number who get five A*-C grades, last year boys did better in maths for the first time in 12 years as a result of the decision to drop coursework entirely from maths GCSE.  The proportion of boys getting grades A*-C in maths rose from 55.8% to 57.6% while the rate for girls stayed flat at 56.8% (Tobin, Education Guardian, p.1)

Fiddling about with forms of assessment to favour one sex or the other has a long history: for example, in the old 11plus examination, girls had to get higher grades to attend grammar schools than did boys to keep the ratio of girls to boys equal.  Now however, something even more dangerous is being proposed.  The examining body, the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) revealed recently that it is considering plans to offer girls and boys different qualifications in the same subject, playing, as it says, to different gender strengths (e.g. girls better at coursework, boys better at conventional forms of assessment).  The problem is that this plays entirely to gender stereotypes of assumed learning and examination behaviour, and therefore encourages gender stereotyping and discourages non-gendered behaviour.  I can’t think of anything worse, can you?

In terms of this year’s GSCE A*-C grades results in maths, initial results show that boys are still do slightly better than girls (58.6% as opposed to 58.3%) but that the gap is again closing. Also girls performance has improved more than boys’.  So what does that say about the removal of coursework in order to favour boys?


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