Gender and Educational Achievement

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Gender and Educational Achievement

  • Explanations for the gender gap can be divided into external and internal factors.
  • External factors include: the impact of feminism, changes in the family, changes in women's employment, girl's changing perceptions and ambitions.
  • Internal factors include: equal opportunities policies, positive role models in school, GCSE and coursework, teacher attention and classroom interaction, challenging stereotypes in the curriculum and selection and league tables.
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External - Impact of Feminism

  • Since the 1960's the feminist movement has challenged the stereotype that a women's role is soley that of the mother and housewife.
  • McRobbie (1994): compared girls magazines from the 70's and 90's. She found 70's magazines emphasised importance of getting amrried whilst 90's contained images of assertive, indepndent women. This has changed girls ambitions so could explain increase in achievement.
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External - Changes in the family

  • The changes we have seen in the family may have had an impact on girls' attitudes. e.g. increased number of female-headed lone families mean women need to take on breadwinner role and this creates a new role model for girls.
  • To achieve such independence girls need to get well-paid jobs and therefore good qualifications.
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External - Changes in women employment

  • 1970 Equal Pay Act and increased proportion of women in employment and high-level professional and managerial jobs have encouraged girls to see their future in terms of paid work, not housewives.
  • Greater career opportunities, better pay for women and role models of successful women provide an incentive for girls to achieve good qualifications.
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External - Girls' changing ambitions

  • Sharpe (1976): studied a group of mainly working class girls in London. She found girls had a set of priorities unlikely to encourage them to attach importance to education, the concerns were over love, marriage, husbands, children, jobs and careers, more or less in that order. Sharpe argued if girls tended to see their future in terms of marriage rather than work they may have little incentive to achieve high educational standards.
  • She repeated her research in the 90's and found girls attitudes had changed.
  • They had a different order of priorities - careers and being able to support themselves, such a change would explain why girls achievement is now better.
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Internal - Equal Opportunities

  • The belief that girls and boys are equally capable and entitled to the same opportunities is now part of mainstream thinking in education. e.g. policies such as Girls into Science and Technology and Women into Science and Technology encourage girls to persue careers in these none traditional areas.
  • Likewise, the introduction of the National Curriculum removed one source of gender inequality by making girls and boys study the same subjects.
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Internal - Positive Role Models

  • There has been an increase in the number of female teachers and headteachers/deputies.
  • This shows girls that women are able to achieve positions of authority and seniority.
  • This then encourages girls to achieve such independence, by increasing their work ethic and therefore their achievement.
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Internal - GCSE and Coursework

  • Some sociologists have suggested that changes in assessment have favoured girls and disadvantaged boys.
  • Gorard (2005): the gender gap was fairly constant from 1975 until 1988-89 when it increased sharply. This coincides with the introduction of GCSE's bringing with it coursework as a major part of nearly all subjects.
  • Mistos and Browne (1998): support this and argue girls are more successful in coursework because they are more conscientious and better organised than boys.
  • However, Elwood (2005): although coursework has had some influence, it is unlikely to be the only cause of the gender gap.
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Internal - Teacher Attention

  • Spender (1983): teachers spend more time interacting with girls than boys
  • French and French (1993): analysed classroom interaction and found the amount of attention teachers paid boys and girls for academic reasons was similar, boys attracted more attention because they needed to be reprimanded.
  • Francis (2001): while boys got more attention, they were disciplined more harshly and felt picked on by teachers.
  • Swann (1998): found gender differences in communication styles. Boys dominate whole class discussion whereas girls prefer pair and group work and are better at listening and cooperating.
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Internal - Challenging Stereotypes

  • Some sociologists argue that the removal of gender stereotypes from text books, reading schemes and other learning materials in recent years have removed barriers to girls educational achievement.
  • Best (1992): examined a sample of 132 books for pre-school children to discover whether gender bias had decreased, it was found:
  • 792 males and 356 female characters.
  • 94 heroes and only 44 heroines
  • 75% females portrayed in family situation to just 15% males.
  • Men shown in 69 different occupations, women in just 18.
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Internal - Selection and League Tables

  • Marketisation policies have created a more competitive climate where schools see girls as desirable recruits because they achieve better exam results.
  • Slee (1998): boys are less attractive to schools because they are more likely to suffer from behavioural difficulties and are 4 times more likely to be excluded than girls.
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