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December 29, 2008 / C H Thompson

Gender and achievement

by Sam Cook a former student

Until 1980s the underachievement of girls was the major concern however since 1990s girls started to outperform boys in all areas of the education system.

At GCSE girls tend to do better in the majority of subjects:chavs

  • 64% of girls and 53.8% of boys achieved 5+ A*-C GCSEs or equivalent in 2006 – a gender gap of 9.6%
  • largest gender differences (a female advantage of more than 10% on those gaining an A*-C GCSE) are for the Humanities, the Arts and Languages
  • smaller gender differences (a female advantage of 5% or less) tend to be in Science and Maths subjects
  • girls are more likely than boys to gain an A* grade at GCSE
  • boys are a little more likely to gain a G grade at GCSE or to gain no GCSEs at all

At A –Level gender differences in pass rate are much narrower but gender differences still remain:

  • across all subjects, the range of difference is 4%. This is in the context of a very high pass rate
  • girls perform better than boys in terms of those attaining an A grade (for the majority of subjects), which is a significant change over the last ten years
  • more supporting data on gender and achievement

It is worth noting at this point gender is not the strongest predictor of attainment:

  • social class attainment gap at Key Stage 4  (as measured by percentage point difference in attainment between those eligible and not eligible for free school meals) is three times as wide as the gender gap
  • some minority ethnic groups attain significantly below the national average and their under-achievement is much greater than the gap between boys and girls

Why are girls doing better than boys?

Mitos and Browne (1998) found

  • the women’s movement and feminism raised girls’ expectations and self-esteem
  • the increasing number of employment opportunities for women
  • many girls mother are in paid employment and act as positive role models for them
  • girls’ priorities have changed: Sue Sharpe (1976) ‘Just Like a Girl’
  • girls are better motivated and organised than boys
  • girls at 16 are seen to be more mature than boys
  • girls benefitted from introduction of coursework in GCSEs/A-Levels
  • national curriculum made more subjects compulsory
  • teachers less likely to gender stereotype girls into set roles or careers

Why do boys underachieve?

  • boys are generally more disruptive in class than girls
  • boys appear to gain ‘street cred’ by not working hard
  • decline in traditional male jobs
  • teachers tend to have lower expectations of boys
  • lack of male role models in schools
  • laddish subcultures
  • identity crisis in men – uncertain future removes purpose in achieving
  • boys do not like reading as it has become feminised
  • boys tend to overestimate their ability
  • feminisation of assessment – coursework rather than competitive exams

Teacher-Pupil Interaction Impact on the Gender Gap?

  1. Micheal Barber (1996) found boys tend to over-estimate their ability, with GCSE results showing the opposite to be true
  2. Michelle Stanworth (1983) found boys dominated classroom interaction pushing girls to the margins which lowered their self-confidence and made them feel less valued hence girls underestimating their ability
  3. Dale Spender (1982) found teachers gave priority to boys giving the impression what girls said was less important
  4. A number of studies have identified the different ways teachers interact with boys and girls.
  5. Howe (1997) found that such differences in interactions emerge very early, even in preschool.

Masculine Identity Can Be Seen as Incompatible with Academic Success

  1. Forde (2006) boys are more likely to be influenced by their male peer group which might devalue schoolwork and so put them at odds with academic achievement. It is argued that girls do not experience a conflict of loyalties between friends and school to the same extent as boys
  2. Jackson 2002 found disruptive behaviour will have a number of benefits by increasing a boy’s status with his peer group and can it can deflect attention away from academic performance
  3. Kelly (1987) found science and the science classroom remain ‘masculine’ environments with boys dominating science classrooms

Are Changes in the Examination System Responsible for the Gender Gap?

  1. Stobart (1992) found a direct relationship between the relative improvement of girls’ achievement and the weighting and type of coursework required in different subjects
  2. Perceptions of girls’ perceived advantage in coursework is high amongst teachers. Over half (53%) of teachers felt that that there was a difference between boys’ and girls’ ability to do coursework Bishop (1996)

Gender socialisation

  1. Lobban (1974) found evidence of gender stereotyping in children’s books with women occupying traditional roles. Best (1993) found little had changed in almost 20 years
  2. Kelly (1987) – gender stereotyping in science classrooms as well as science text books where women are largely invisible

Gender and Education: the evidence

Boys are Doctors, Girls are Nurses

Return to education overview



Leave a Comment
  1. hiba / Feb 18 2013 10:30 am

    so what does feminism have to say on current state of education where girls are no longer underachieving

  2. DoubleN / Feb 19 2015 10:12 pm

    Hi, could u pls explain what is wrong with girls liking subjects like language and social sciences and boys going with natural sciences and math ? I see it is because of socialisation but whats wrong with it ?
    Thank you

    • C H Thompson / Feb 20 2015 9:47 am

      Hi – it is the issue of gender stereotyping, the assumption that certain subjects are ‘girls’ subjects while other subjects are predominantly ‘boys’ subjects. This stereotyping is seen by sociologists as occurring through secondary socialisation whereby schools reinforce gendered roles (the roles boys and girls ‘ought’ to follow). Feminists point out how subject choices are not ‘natural’ but a form of patriarchal power. Education becomes an ideological tool to keep women in their place. Hope that helps 🙂

      • DoubleN / Feb 20 2015 10:08 am

        Thank u it did help out and cleared alot of doubts as well .
        So is that the subjects female choose are inferior , like are languages inferior to science subject ,but for some reason i dont feel it that way . Or is it like by taking science subject boys are open to the feilds of medicine and engineering which are better paid than becomming a sociologist or a language teacher ?
        Is it so ? Is it the plan to keep women into lower levels of job and dominate them ?

      • C H Thompson / Feb 20 2015 11:10 am

        Hi – to your first point yes, languages are seen as inferior to science and Maths. I understand you do not see it that way, but science and Maths, especially in the UK are seen as ‘superior’ and more ‘challenging’ subjects. The argument from feminists is this is a form of gender stereotyping as it allows boys to occupy more ‘serious’ and ‘important’ subjects and as you say get access to the better paid jobs. Of course society is changing and more girls are gaining entry to more male dominated areas of society this can be seen with the EU leading the way by trying to eliminate gender stereotyping however critics pointed out many of the girls in the adverts met established gender stereotyping with their clothing and posturing and so we go full circle which functionalists would like as they see the role of education as being about role allocation. So if everyone is ‘taught’ how they can fulfils their role, then society functions correctly!! Hope this helps too 🙂

  3. DoubleN / Mar 12 2015 9:58 pm

    Does a decline in the industrial jobs for men and identity crisis of masculinity have the same effect ? Such as boys no longer find a incentive to study hard .
    Also can u pls explain by what do you mean by identity crisis of masculinity .
    Lastly ,how does Kelly`s statement fit under the sub heading of masculine identity …..?
    Thank you .

    • C H Thompson / Mar 13 2015 3:27 pm

      Yes the crisis of masculinity is arguably an outcome of a decline in traditional male occupations as well women moving into more traditional male occupations such as female plumbers. Therefore the feminization of society means boys are uncertain as to what occupations they should aim for, subsequently their achievement at school falls. All of what I’ve just written creates an identity crisis for young men, they no longer know what attributes they should have as a man – should they express their emotions and cry as a ‘new’ man would or should they keep a ‘stiff-upper-lip’ as traditional men would.
      Regarding Kelly, having said all the above, there still remains the issue of gendered subjects, such as science being a male subject and girls being invisible in the science lesson. This could be due to science and maths being the last two remaining male dominated careers. However this view of vulnerable with campaign groups using the media to get more girls into science – so things are not looking too good for the boys.
      Hope this helps and have you got your books yet? If so, any chance of an Amazon 5* review 

      • DoubleN / Mar 13 2015 4:04 pm

        Thank you very much !
        I havent received the books yet I live in the middel east so Amazon takes altleast 2 months to get my things . This is the second month .
        As soon as I get the books I will review them ,thats on my imortant things to do on list . I am sure its going to be a 5* exactly like the blog is .

      • C H Thompson / Mar 13 2015 5:55 pm

        The Middle East, goodness me that’s a long wait. Let me know when you get them 🙂

  4. DoubleN / Mar 14 2015 10:31 am

    Of ourse

  5. DoubleN / Mar 18 2015 8:16 pm

    Hi, I dont understand your first statistic .
    I suppose the 4 is 42 . But why is the % for girls lower than of the boys ? Isnt it suppose to be the other way around .
    Thanking you in advance .

    • C H Thompson / Mar 19 2015 3:19 pm

      Hi – I’ve fixed it. It should have been 64% hence the 9.6% difference 🙂

      • DoubleN / Mar 19 2015 3:25 pm

        I get it now 🙂 . I use this blog very much and so if I see some thing else like this I will let you know 🙂


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