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?


6 thoughts on “Gender Hysteria: 2010 Examination Results

  1. Even the BBC has caught this gender hysteria. New TV series, Gareth Malone’s Extraordinary School For Boys, starts on 9th September. According to the website: “In an ambitious new series, … Gareth turns educator for one term. His mission is to re-engage boys who aren’t fulfilling their potential at school and who, like many across Britain, lag behind their female peers.”
    It sounds like it needs a critical feminist response!

  2. Just to say that I have been approached by Radio York to contribute to a discussion TODAY about Gareth Malone’s Extraordinary School For Boys series. I am being contacted by phone at about 10am today so it’d be good if any GEA member could get to the radio. Jonathan Cowap I think his name is, will be introducing the item and others involved in the discussion, I assume by phone like me, will be Jill Roderick,head of an all-girls school and Lord Willis, LibDem and ex Principal

  3. just to say i am david and i am in gareth malones extroadinary school for boys all i can say is its an experiment lol

  4. Watching Newsnight discussing Gareth Malone’s Extraordinary School For Boys .
    The methods look like youth work, and I think many of the female pupils would love to learn outside, do role play etc etc.
    The Newsnight discussion is discussing the same old rubbish:
    very little discussion on which boys? which girls?
    Lots on:

    gender segregation
    more male teachers – too much feminisation;
    more male role models;
    strict ‘male’ discipline.

    What do others think??

  5. Just to throw a cat amongst the pigeons, I was eavesdropping on some female undergrad students who were discussing this very programme and I overheard one of the young women utter (in a very rushed and breathy manner) something along the following lines: ‘the elephant in the room is that it doesn’t matter what changes they try and make, all this is proof that women are by and large smarter than men, which is really why men stick together in order to try and hold us back’! I was quite surprised to hear one of the other girls say ‘well da!’ Afterwards I got to thinking that indeed these students are correct in saying that, at least, within a supposedly meritocratic education system female intelligence has become the elephant in the room and it’s become far easier to focus on the failings of that supposed meritocratic system in producing a perfect gender equilibrium than it is to discuss the intellect of girls (and therefore women). Of course we know full well that the consitantly higher scholastic achievments of girls offers a direct and bald challenge to the claim that the labour market, where men obtain consistently higher achievments, is a meritocratic system in the same order as the eductional one. Which begs the question, perhaps boys simply don’t need to get as good grades as girls and thus don’t bother putting the same effort into their course work. Which leads me to agree wholeheartedly with the students assumption that making changes to the education system will not change the scholastic achievments of boys in any considerable way. Rather if you want boys to achieve parity results with girls simply make the labour market more meritocratic and you’ll soon find they have the same motivation as girls to put into their course work! So, the elephant has left the building and there’ll be no kicking that cat back into the bag!

  6. Merryn, exactly how is the labour market not meritocratic? We’ve had all this feminist rhetoric for almost 50 years now, aren’t you tired of it? If you’re still not achieving the goals you wanted, perhaps you should stop blaming men and accept that discrimination’s got nothing to do with it: perhaps they’re just the wrong goals.

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