Gender Differences in Education

Gender Patterns in Achievement

  • In the past boys out-performed girls, but since the 1980s girls have improved more rapidly and now do better than boys at all levels and in most subjects.
  • At Key Stages 1-3, girls do consistently better than boys, especially at english but the gap is narrower for science and maths.
  • At GCSE, girls are about 10 percentage points ahead.
  • At AS and A-level, girls are more likely to pass and to get higher grades, but the gap is narrower.
  • Girls even do better in traditional boys' subjects.
  • More girls than boys go into higher education.

Reasons for these differences:

  • External factors - outside the education system.
  • Internal factors - within school and the education system.
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External Factors and Girls' Achievement

Influence of Feminism:

  • Likely to have affected girls' self-image and aspirations so will be more motivated to do well in education.

Girls' Changing Perceptions and Ambitions:

  • Sharpe - in 1970s, girls' priorities were 'love, marriage, husbands, children, jobs' in that order whereas in 1990s girls' priorities had switched to careers and independence.
  • Beck & Beck-Gernsheim - independence is valued more than in the past and a career has become part of women's 'life project'.
  • Fuller - some girls aim for a professional career to support themsleves, but many working class girls with poor job prospects have stereotyped aspirations for marriage and children (an attainable traditional identity that offer status).
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External Factors and Girls' Achievement

Changes in the Family:

  • An increase in the divorce rate since 1970s - about 40% now.
  • More lone parent families with over 90% female headed.
  • More cohabitation and a decrease in first marriages.
  • Smaller families and more women staying single.
  • Women now have more need and opportunity to be economically independent so gives them motivation to do well educationally.

Changes in Women's Employment:

  • Women's employment has risen from under half of married women in the 1950s to about three quarters today.
  • 1970 Equal Pay Act and 1975 Sex Discrimination Act give women more employment rights.
  • Since 1975, the pay gap between men and women has almost halved.
  • Gives girls more incentive to aspire to careers and so to gain qualifications.
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Internal Factors and Girls' Achievement

Equal Opportunities Policies:

  • GIST and WISE programmes to encourage girls into science and technology.
  • The National Curriculum - introduced in 1988 so that girls and boys do the same subjects and equalise opportunities.
  • Meritocracy - hard work + intelligence = achievement; girls now have more opportunities so are able to succeed.

Role Models:

  • More female teachers and headteachers to provide positive, pro-educational role models for girls.
  • This feminises the learning environment and encourages girls to see school as part of a femal gender domain so perceive educational success as a desirable feminine characteristic.


  • Mitsos & Browne - girls do better than boys in coursework as they are more conscientous and organised & mature earlier so can concentrate for longer.
  • Its introduction into the curriculum thus boosted girls' exam results more than boys'.
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Internal Factors and Girls' Achievement

Stereotypes in Learning Material:

  • Reading schemes and textbooks under-represent females and portray them as subordinate to males, in domestic roles, or unsuited to certain subjects.
  • Since the 1980s, many of these sexist images have been removed or replaced to more positive images to raise girls' aspirations.

Teacher Attention:

  • Spender - teachers spend more time interacting with boys than girls.
  • French & French - similar amounts of attention for academic reasons but boys received more attention overall due to punishments for misbehaviour.
  • Francis - boys disciplined more harshly, and teachers had lower expectations.

Selection and League Tables:

  • Publication of league tables lead to more competition between school so must boost grades.
  • Girls are generally more successful so more attractive to schools so easier to get a place in a good school so likely to achieve highly.
  • Boys seen as 'troublemakers' and 'liability students' so less likely to be selected.
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Internal Factors and Girls' Achievement

Identity, Class and Girls' Achievement:

  • Archer - confict between working class girls' feminine identities and the school's habitus - choice of gaining symbolic capital from peers or educational capitalfrom success.
  • Hyper-heteroseual feminine identity - construst 'glamorous' identities that earn symbolic capital, school commits symbolic violence by defining the girls' culture as worthless.
  • Ladettes - adopting a tomboyish, 'Nike' identity and getting excluded.

'Successful' Working Class Girls:

  • Evans - those who succeed are still disadvantage by their gender and class identities.
  • Many didn't attend university due to fear of debt and cost of living away so limited their earnign power.
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Boys' Underachievement

  • Literacy:
    • parents spend less time reading to sons & its mainly mothers who read so seen as a feminine activity;
    • boys' leisure activities don't encourage language & communication skills.
  • Globalisation & decline of traditional 'men's jobs' - decline in male employment in the manufacturing industry led to a male identity crisis so have less motivation to get qualifications.
  • Lack of male role models at home - increase in female-headed lone parent families so boys lack a positive male role model so less likely to see the value of employment & qualifications.
  • Feminisation of schooling:
    • Sewell - schools no longer nuture 'masculine' traits.
    • assessment has become feminisied - coursework disadvantages boys.
    • lack of male primary school teachers suggests education is feminine.
    • Read - female teachers can also provide discipline.
  • Laddish subcultures:
    • Francis - boys more concerned about being labelled as swots as threaten masculinity.
  • Policies to raise boys' achievement:
    • use boys' leisure interests and famous male role models to improve boys' literacy skills & motivation to achieve.
    • Ringrose - moral panic about 'failing boys' has led to neglect of girls'.
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Gender and Subject Choice

  • Early socialisation:
    • Family - boys & girls are dressed differently & given different toys; boys rewarded for being active & girls for being passive.
    • School - Byrne found that teachers encourage boys to be tough & show initiative but expect girls to be quiet & helpful.
    • Leisure reading & subject choice - Murphy & Elwood found that boys read hobby and information books whilst girls read stories about people.
  • Gender domains - views of male and femal tasks sahped by early experiences & adults' expectations.
  • Gendered subject images - science mainly taight by men & traditionally use boys' interests in textbooks so seen as a masculine subject.
  • Gender identity & peer pressure - pressurise peers to conform to gender domain; labelled negatively if don't conform e.g. girls who choose sports are labelled as 'butch' or 'lesbian'.
  • Gendered careers - vocational courses tend to be dominated by ine gender e.g. nursing is feminine whilst constuction is masculine.
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Gender Identity and Schooling

  • Connell - school reproduces 'hegemonic masulinity' (dominance of heterosexual masculine identity & subordination of female & gay identities).
  • Feminists - acts as a form of social control to reproduce patriarchy through:
    • Verbal Abuse - Lees found that boys call girls 'slags' if they appear sexually available but there is no equivalent term for males. Mac an Ghaill - anti-school working class boys use verbal abuse to reinforce masuclinity by calling those who work hard 'dickhed achievers'.
    • Teachers - Haywood and Mac an Ghaill found that male teachers tell of boys for 'behaving like girls' & ignoring boys' verbal abuse of girls, thus reinforcing gender identities.
    • The Male Gaze - male pupils and teachers look girls up & down as sexual objects, boys who don't participate are labelled as 'gay'.
    • Double Standards - Lees found that boys boats about their own sexual exploits but label girls negatively for the same behaviour.
    • Female Peer Groups Policing Identity:
      • Archer found working class girls gain symbolic capital by performing a hyper-heterosexual identity.
      • Females police this identity by labelling as a 'tramp' if they dont conform.
      • Ringrose - tension between an idealised feminine identity and a sexualised identity, creating 'slutt shaming' & 'frigid shaming'.
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