AQA Sociology: Gender Differences in Educational Achievement

What are the gender patterns in achievement and subject choice?

Why do girls now do better than boys at most subjects and most levels of achievement?

Why do girls and boys choose to study different subjects?

How does schooling help to reinforce gender identities?

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  • Created by: Chloe
  • Created on: 23-05-12 09:29

Gender Differences in Education

Gender Patterns:

  • In the past, boys out performed the girls.
  • Since 1980s, girls have improved more rapidly & now they do better than boys at all levels and in most subjects.
  • At Key Stages 1 - 3 girls do better than boys, especially in English. Gap is narrower in maths and science.
  • At GCSE, girls are around 10% points ahead.
  • At AS and A level, girls  are more likely to pass, get higher grades. Gap is narrower than at gcse.
  • Girls even do better in traditional boys' subjects like sciences.
  • More girls than boys go into higher education.

Before then, Spender (1983) argued that education was controlled and dominated by men. The curriculum was male-centred, boys got more attention and boys got away with being disruptive in class.

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External Factors and Girls Achievement

The Impact of Feminism

  • A change in female expectations. More awareness of inequality.
  • Feminist ideas affected girls' self-image and aspirations. More motivated to do well in education.

Changing Ambitions and Perceptions

  • Linked to influence of feminism. Studies show major shift in how girls see themselves and their future.
  • Sharpe (1994): Compared her two studies of working class girls in 1970s and 1990s. Found that:
  • In 1970s, girls priorities were love, marriage, husbands, children, jobs and careers. Saw a future in terms of domestic role, not paid work.
  • In 1990s, priorities switched to careers and being able to be independent.
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External Factors and Girls Achievement

Changes in the Family

  • Since 1970s:
  • Increase in the divorce rate - about 40% of marriages end in divorce.
  • More lone parent families. Over 90% female headed.
  • Smaller families and more women stay single.
  • Women have more need & more opportunity to be economically independent. More motivation to do well educationally & get good qualifications.

Changes in Womens Employment

  • More employment opportunities for women.
  • Women's employment has risen from under half of married women in 1950s to about three quarters today.

Changes in the Law:

  • 1970 Equal Pay Act and 1975 Sex Discrimination Act - more employment rights. Pay gap getting smaller.
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Internal Factors and Girls Achievement

Although divided into internal & external factors, in reality they are linked. (Show connections).

Equal Opportunities Policies

  • Feminist ideas now widespread in education system.
  • Gender Equality - girls and boys are equally capable & should have same opportunities.
  • GIST and WISE programmes to encourage girls into science and technology.
  • The National Curriculum introduced in 1988. Girls and boys now largely study same subjects. e.g. Science compulsory.
  • Meritocracy as a result of policies. Girls now able to do better.

Role Models

  • Mitsos and Browne (1998) say teaching has been feminised. Women are more likely to be classroom teachers, especially in primary schools. - positive role models. 
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Internal Factors and Girls Achievement


  • Mitsos and Browne (1998) say girls do better than boys in coursework because they are more conscientious and better organised. Girls mature earlier and can concentrate longer.
  • Although coursework has some impact on results, Elwood (2005) found that exams have more influence on final grades. Coursework has a limited effect on gender differences in achievement.

Stereotypes in learning Materials

  • Textbook and reading resources have changed and less likely to stereotype girls into passive roles since 1980s.
  • Sexist images removed & replaces with more positive images of females. Impact on girls perceptions.
  • Can connect removal of stereotypes to equal opportunities policies with impact on feminist ideas on education.
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Internal Factors and Girls Achievement

Teacher Attention Explain how classroom interactions help girls to do better.

  • Spender (1983) found that teachers spent more time interacting with boys than girls.
  • French and French (1993) found that teachers paid boys & girls similar amounts of attention. But boys received more attention overall because they attracted more punishments for misbehaviour.
  • Francis (2001) found that boys received more attention but disciplined more harshly, felt teachers picked on them & had lower expectations of them.
  • Swann (1998) found that boys dominated class discussions whereas girls prefer group work. Teachers favour group work & respond more positively.

Selection and League Tables

  • Marketisation: Girls are generally more successful than boys - more attractive to schools.
  • Boys are lower achieving and more badly behaved. Schools see as liability.
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Boys' Under-Achievement

Evaluation: girls now achieving more but radical feminists argue that education system remains patriarchal. e.g. sexual harassment in schools.


  • Parents spend less time reading to sons. Seen as a feminine activity.
  • Boys interests (sport and computer games) don't encourage language & communication skills. Girls 'bedroom culture' does.

Globalisation and Decline of Traditional 'men's jobs'.

  • Since 1980s, manufacturing industry has relocated to developing countries leading to decline in UK.
  • Many boys try less to get qualifications.
  • Traditional male manual jobs needed few qualifications, so seems unlikely that disappeared of these jobs would affect boys' motivation to obtain qualifications.
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Boys' Under-Achievement

Feminisation of Schooling

  • Boys don't have as many role models.
  • Some argue coursework is example of feminisation. Disadvantages boys.
  • Over 60% of 8-11 year old boys have no lessons with a male teacher. May give idea that education is a feminine activity.

Lack of Male Role Models at Home

  • Increase in number of female-headed lone parent families means now many boys grow up lacking a positive male role model who works to support family. May thus be less likely to see value of employment & qualifications.

'Laddish' Subcultures

  • Peer pressure on boys to show masculinity by being anti-school.
  • Epstein (1998) found that pro-school working-class boys more likely to be harassed, labelled as 'gay' and subjected to verbal abuse.
  • Internal or External? Subcultures can be both inside & outside school
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Gender and Subject Choice

Girls and Boys follow different 'gender routes' in subject choices.

  • In National Curriculum, most subjects are compulsory but where choice is possible, girls & boys choose differently. E.g. food tech, wood tech.
  • In post-16 education big gender differences emerge.
  • In vocational subjects, gender segregation is at its greatest. Only 1% of construction apprentices are female.

1) Early Socialisation: involves learning behaviour expected of males & females. In family (girls & boys dressed differently, given different toys. Boys rewarded for being active, girls for passive). At School & Leisure reading & subject choice.

2) Gendered Subject Images: Tasks & activities seen as either male or female territory. Science - BOYS, english - GIRLS

3)Peer Pressure: Pressure to Conform. Links to self-image. Sport - M, music - G

4) Gendered careers: Many jobs seen as either men's or women's & tend to be dominated by one gender.

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Gender Identity and Schooling

Feminists argue that experiences in school act as a form of social control to reproduce patriarchy - male domination & female subordination.

Teachers Haywood & Mac an Ghaill (1996) found that more teachers reinforced gender identities by telling boys off for 'behaving like girls and ignoring boys' verbal abuse of girls.

The Male Gaze - a form of social control where male pupils and teachers look girls up and down as sexual objects. Boys who don't participate labelled 'gay'.

Double standards - when one set of moral standards is applied to one group but a different set to another. e.g. boys boast about sexual exploits, but label girls negatively for same behaviour.

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very interesting

charlotte joel


thank you. so helpful!

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