Gender Differences in Education

Gender differences in education from the Education topic of AQA A level Sociology

Gender gap in achievement

  • On starting school girls were ahead of boys by 7-17% in literacy, maths etc and were better at concentrating
  • In 2013 72% of girls achieved 5 A*-C GCSEs compared with 64% of boys
  • In 2013 46.8% of girls achieved A or B grades at A level but only 42.2% of boys
  • A larger proportion of girls achieve distinctions in vocational courses even in engineering and construction where girls are a tiny minority
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External factors and gender differences in achieve

Since the 1960s the Feminist movement has challenged the traditional stereotype of a woman's role as being a full time housewife and that inferior to men. The feminist movement has had success in improving women's rights through changes in the law helping to improve girls' self esteem. McRobbie studied girls' magazines and saw that in the 1970s they emphasised marriage and children whereas nowadays they show images of independent women

There have also been a number of changes in the family including an increase in the divorce rate, a decrease in first marriages etc which affect girls' attitudes towards education. Increased numbers of single mothers mean the woman has to take on the breadwinner role which creates a new role model for girls and encourages good qualifications in order to get a good job and be independent

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External factors and gender differences in achieve

There have also been changes in women's employment including the 1970 Equal Pay Act and 1975 Sex Discrimination Act which have encouraged women to work and this is highlighted with the rise of women in employment from 53% in 1971 to 67% in 2013. These changes encourage career opportunities for women

Changes in girls' ambitions is also clear with Sharpe's interviews with girls showing a shift. In 1974 they had low aspirations seeing love and children as priorities but by the 1990s careers and jobs were their biggest priority. Beck links this in with the trend towards individualism where a career has become part of a woman's life project because it promotes recognition

However, there are class differences with many working class girls still aspiring marriage and children because of the limited job opportunities open to them

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Internal factors and gender differences in achieve

There are now more equal opportnities policies in place because of feminist ideas such as GIST and WISE which encourage girls to go into non traditional careers. Female scientists have visited schools acting as role models and the introduction of the National Curriculum made all students study the same subjects which wasn't the case previously. There has also been an increase in the number of female headteachers from 22% in secondary schools in 1992 to 37% in 2012 encouraging girls to work hard and achieve

GCSEs have also advantaged girls with Mitsos & Brown concluding that girls are more successful in coursework because they spend more time on their work, are better at meeting deadlines etc so they achieve higher grades. These skills are the result of early gender role socialisation where girls are taught to be neat etc. However, this is unlikely to be the only cause of the achievement differences because exams have much more influence than coursework

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Internal factors and gender differences in achieve

The way teachers interact with boys and girls differs too. French analysed classroom interaction and found that boys received more attention because they attracted more reprimands with the boys feeling they were being picked on. Swann also found differences in communication styles with boys prefering whole class discussions explaining why teachers often see boys as loud and disruptive which can lead to the self fulfilling prophecy

The removal of gender stereotypes from books has removed a barrier from girls' education. In the 1970s reading books portrayed women as mothers and boys as inventive scientists but now gender stereotyping has been removed

Marketisation policies mean schools see girls as desirable because they achieve better exam results so are more likely to get into the best schools. Slee argues that boys are less attractive to schools because they are four times more likely to be excluded

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Internal factors and gender differences in achieve

Liberal feminists celebrate the progress made so far in improving achievement. They believe that by encouraging female role models and having more equal opportunities policies will help to achieve further progress. This will then overcome sexist attitudes and stereotypes to form a meritocratic system where everyone has equal opportunity to achieve regardless of gender

Radical feminists are more critical and emphasise that the system still remains patriarchal at the expense of women. Sexual harrassment of girls still continues at school such as the male gaze, male teachers are still more likely to become heads of secondary schools and women are still under-represented in areas of the curriculum with Weiner describing the secondary school history curriculum as a 'woman free zone'

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Identity, class and girls' achievement

There are social class differences in girls' achievement with only 40.6% of girls from poorer families achieving 5 GCSEs

Archer says one reason for these differences is the conflict between working class girls' feminine identities and the values of the school. By performing their working class identities the girls gained symbolic capital from their peers but this brought them into conflict with school preventing them from acquiring educational and economic capital

Many of the girls invested time and money in constructing desirable hyper-heterosexual feminine identities through combining black urban American styles with make up and hairstyles helping them to bring status from their peers. However, at school they were punished for wearing the wrong clothes leading teachers to believe they were incapable of success. Having boyfriends meant they lost interest in schoolwork and going to university so they aspired instead to have children and work in low paid jobs such as childcare

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Identity, class and girls' achievement

Some working class girls adopted loud feminine identities that led them to be outspoken such as through questioning teachers' authority. This was the opposite of the ideal pupil idea which was to be passive and quiet

Some working class girls do go on to achieve. Evans studied working class girls and found that the girls wanted to go to university to increase their earning power not for themselves, but to help their families. They wanted to stay at home and travel to a local university to save money but this limited their choice. They saw remaining at home an aspect of their identity and a key feature of their working class habitus. This shows even though who go on to educationally succeed are often excluded from elite universities placing a limit on their success

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Boys and achievement

Boys tend to have poorer literacy and language skills because parents spend less time reading to their sons and boys often see reading as a feminine activity because it is the mothers who read to them. Boys' leisure persuits like football do little to develop their language and communication skills so they often underperform. Policies such as Reading Champions and The Raising Boys Achievement project have been introduced to improve boys' achievement

Since the 1980s there has been a decline in heavy industry such as mining and iron due to globalisation which has seen much manufacturing shift to developing countries like China as labour is cheaper. This has led to an identity crisis for men where many believe they have little prospects of getting a job so they lose motivation and underachieve. However, many argue that these unskilled jobs didn't require many qualifications anyway

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Boys and achievement

Sewell says boys fall behind as education has become feminised where schools don't nurture masculine traits such as leadership and instead prefer qualities associated with girls which is why he thinks coursework should be replaced with more exams

Only 14% of primary school teachers are male yet most boys said the presence of a male teacher made them behave better and 42% said it made them work harder because of their harsher discipline. However, Francis found that two thirds of 7-8 year olds believed the gender of teachers does not matter. Read identified two types of language used to express criticism:

  • A disciplinarian discourse - the teacher's authority is made visible for example through shouting, this is more masculine
  • A liberal discourse - the teacher's authority is invisible, this is more feminine

Read found that both male and female teachers used the disciplinarian discourse disproving the claim that schools have become more feminised

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Boys and achievement

Some argue that the growth of laddish subcultures has led to boys' underachievement. Epstein found that working class boys are more likely to be harassed and labelled if they appear to be hard working supporting the idea that boys are more concerned about being labelled than girls

This is because the working class culture favours masculinity through doing tough manual work so education appears unappealing to working class boys

Some believe that girls have succeeded at the expense of boys which Ringrose believes these views have contributed to a moral panic where working class boys are viewed as being a threat to society. This has caused a shift in policy which ignores the problem of disadvantaged pupils and the problems faced by girls in schools

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Gender and subject choice

Where choice is possible in the curriculum boys and girls tend to follow different gender routes such as technology being compulsory in Year 9 but girls tend to choose textiles whilst boys choose engineering.

At A level gendered subject choices become more noticeable with 93% of computing students being male and 75% of sociology students being female which questions the effectiveness of policies encouraging girls going into STEM subjects

Gender segregation is also noticeable within apprenticeships as only 1 in 100 childcare apprentices is male and 98% of vehicle repair apprentices are male

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Gender and subject choice

Explanations of gender differences in subject choice

Gender role socialisation is the process of learning the behaviour expected of males and females in society. From an early age boys and girls are dressed differently and are given different games. As a result of differences in socialisation boys and girls read different types of books, with boys favouring hobby books and girls stories about people

Gender domains are the tasks and activities that boys and girls see as male or female territory and therefore as relevant to themselves such as mending a car being part of the male domain. Children are more confident in engaging in tasks that they see as part of their own gender domain and even when tackling the same task girls tend to focus on how people feel whereas boys focus on how things are made

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Gender and subject choice

The gender image of a subject affects who will want to choose it. Kelly argues that science is seen as a boys' subject because science teachers are more likely to be men and lessons draw on boys' interests. In the same way computing is seen as a masculine subject because it involves working with machines which is the male gender domain

However, pupils who attend single sex schools tend to hold less stereotyped subject images. Leonard found that girls in all girls' schools were more likely to take Maths and Science A levels and go onto university to study these subjects

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Gender and subject choice

Subject choice can also be influenced by peer pressure. Boys tend to opt out of music and dance because it is out of their gender domain and could attract a negative response from peers. Similarly, Dewar found that girls who take part in sports are often labelled as lesbian or butch by male students leading many girls to drop out of PE

By contrast, an absence of peer pressure from the opposite sex in single sex schools explains why students hold less stereotyped subject images as there is less pressure to conform to a gender domain

Jobs are often sex-typed with women's jobs involving childcare and nursing with over half of all women's employment being based around personal services. The sex typing of occupations affects boys' and girls' ideas about what kind of jobs are acceptable. If boys get the message that nursery nurses are all female then they will opt out of a childcare course

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Pupils' sexual and gender identities

Lees identifies a double standard of sexual morality in which boys boast about their own sexual exploits but call a girl a **** if she behaves in a similar way. Sexual conquest is approved of and given status by male peers and ignored by teachers but with girls it attracts negative labels. Feminists see this as an example of patriarchy which is a form of social control helping to keep females subordinated

Boys use name calling to put girls down if they behave or dress in a certain way and name calling helps to shape gender identity with Parker finding that boys were labelled gay simply for being friendly with girls and female teachers. These labels bear no relation to the pupils' sexual behaviour but just reinforce gender norms

Mac an Ghaill says there is a visual aspect to the way pupils control each other's identities with the male gaze which is how males see girls as sexual objects. This is a form of surveillance where boys prove their masculinity to their friends and if they don't display it they run the risk of being labelled as gay

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Pupils' sexual and gender identities

Male peer groups also use verbal abuse to reinforce their definitions of masculinity such as working class 'macho lads' being dismissive of other working class boys who aspired middle class careers

Female peer groups also often aspire to be popular as it is crucial in their identity. Ringrose studied working class peer groups and found they faced a tension between an idealised feminine identity of getting on with everybody and showing loyality and a sexualised identity that involved competing for boys in the dating culture. Shaming is a social control device by which girls discipline each other's identities such as girls who don't have boyfriends as being frigid. A boffin identity is given to girls who want to achieve educationally so are often excluded from peers

Male teachers often told boys off for behaving like girls and teased them for getting lower test scores and told girls to ignore boys' verbal abuse helping to reinforce he definitions of gender identity

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