Gender & Education

it is clear that females get better grades overall than males. Yet, both genders seem to improve over the years. But, girls are doing significantly better.

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  • Created by: Amy
  • Created on: 09-05-12 22:54

Out of School Factors

Feminists challenged the traditional stereotype of the housewife/carer role for women. They influenced various laws such as the Equal Pay Act 1970, leading to greater equality between males and females. This has created a more positive self-image for girls and new opportunities for them, encouraging them to work hard at school.

Liberal feminists believe there has been a move towards greater gender equality; radical feminists, on the other hand, believe education to be a patriarchal system that oppresses women. 

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Women and Employment

These changes in the law have led to more women going out to work. This means more girls are growing up in a family with a working mother, providing a positive working role model. This encourages girls to aspire to a career, meaning they see the importance of qualifications, so are motivated to succeed.

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Changing ambitions

Sharpe found that the ambitions of girls in the 1970s were: “love, marriage, children, jobs and careers” more or less in that order. They didn’t need qualifications for these ambitions, so didn’t bother at school.

Sharpe did a second study in the 1990s and found girls’ ambitions had changed. They were now focuses on careers and financial independence rather than relying on men. These ambitions require qualifications, therefore they are motivated to succeed.

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Changes in the Family

The desire for independence may be due to changes in the family. Girls are aware that divorce and lone parenthood has increased, meaning they cannot reply on a man to provide for them. Lone mothers are often breadwinners, providing a positive, independent role model. Once again, this requires qualifications, hence girls are motivated to succeed at school.

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In School Factors: Equal Oppurtunities

Liberal feminists have encouraged the education system to become more equal. The National Curriculum ensures all pupils study Maths, English and Science at GCSE level (previously girls were often encouraged not to take science).

Policies such as GIST (Girls into Science and Technology) and WISE (Women Into Science and Engineering) have encouraged girls into non-traditional subjects and widened their ambitions.

Radical feminists, however, argue education remains patriarchal e.g. women are largely ignored in History.

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The introduction of coursework may have benefited girls more than boys because girls tend to take more time and pay more attention to their work than boys.

Girls are more likely to hand in work early to be checked by their teachers and they are more likely to meet deadlines. This means that a key part of assessment is better suited to girls’ abilities, therefore they perform better than boys.

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Positive role models

There are more women being teachers and head teachers in primary schools, compared to secondary schools, where around 75% of head teachers are males.

This affects girls as women teachers are likely to be particularly important role models in lieu of educational achievement. This is because the individual who has become a teacher must undertake a lengthy and successful education herself.  

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Teacher attention

Teachers often give more attention to boys; however, this is often negative and focused on boy’s poor behaviour.

Attention to girls tend to be more positive and focuses on their learning. Therefore, teachers see girls as cooperative and hard-working, label them positively, raise their self-esteem and leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy of success.

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Marketisation of schools

Girls are attractive to schools because they are more likely than boys to achieve at least 5 A*-C GSCEs.

Schools want these pupils to boost their league table position and attract more parents. Therefore, the best performing schools may select more girls because the girls will improve the school’s overall performance.

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Boys and Achievement - In school factors

Lack of male teachers

There is a lack of male teachers, especially in primary schools. A DFES survey in 2007 found that boys believed they worked harder and behaved better with a male teacher.

However, another survey of 7-8 year olds found the gender of the teacher made little difference to them.

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Feminisation of education

Education favours traditional feminine characteristics such as neatness, good behaviour, obedience, etc.  

It does not value more masculine traits such as leadership and competitiveness.

Therefore, boys are disadvantaged, especially in coursework because education uses the characteristics of girls.

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"Laddish subcultures"

Working class culture emphasises tough, manual, masculine work.

Schoolwork does not fit this image; therefore, boys who do work risk being labelled as a ‘swot’ or ‘sissy’.

Working class boys then reject education, create an anti-school subculture, meaning they make no attempt to succeed at school

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Willis - "The Lads"

The boys challenged authority, as they claimed the teachers are just ‘normal people’.

  It is important for the lads to reject qualifications because they think that only ‘knowing a bit about the world’, ‘having your head screwed on’ and ‘pulling your finger out’ is necessary for gaining a job.

This could explain their underachievement because they do not see the need for qualifications, as they think they can get a job without the means of qualifications.

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Decline of manual work:

Traditional working class male jobs such as the coal, steel and shipbuilding industries have declined rapidly since the 1980s. This may have led to an identity crisis of working class boys who feel they have little chance of getting a proper masculine job. This undermines their self-esteem and motivation, so they adopt a fatalistic attitude leading to failure in school

Lack of male role models at home:

An increasing number of boys are growing up in lone parent families so lack a male role model at home. This means they lack a disciplinarian and the ethic of work, which could lead to poor behaviour in school and a lack of motivation to work.

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One significant factor why boys do less well than girls is their lower levels of literacy and linguistic skills. Parents are less likely to read to sons; also, mothers may do most of the reading so it becomes perceived as a feminine activity.

The leisure activities of boys – such as playing computer games or football – do not develop these skills.

Girls, on the other hand, are more likely to read and develop a ‘bedroom culture’ of staying in and talking to friends, which does develop linguistic skills.

Policies to improve the literacy skills of boys:

• National literacy strategy 

• Reading Champions Scheme

• Dads and Sons campaign

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Gender & Subject Choice

 Boys tend to take these sort of subjects: PE, Economics, Politics, Engineering, Maths, Business, ICT/Computing, Accounting,Physics and Construction.

Whereas girls are more likely to take: English,Textiles,Dance,Music,Food Tech,Health + Social Care,Child Development,Sociology and Psychology

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Early socialisation

Children learn gender roles through early socialisation in the family, girls are encouraged to be neat, tidy, passive and helpful, whereas boys are encouraged to be leaders and take risks.

Boys do activities that are more active (e.g. sport) and girls are more passive (reading); thus girls may go for subjects such as, English Literature, rather than sport.

This creates ‘gender domains’ which influence expectations of adults. Activities such as DIY or mending a car are seen as a male gender domain, so boys may choose science or engineering. Caring for children is seen as a feminine gender domain, so girls take Early Years or Health and Social Care.

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Career opportunities:

Women’s employment is still concentrated on a narrow selection of occupations: e.g. nursing , childcare etc. This explains why girls choose subject such as Health + Social Care, Psychology and sociology. 

Peer Pressure

Boys may avoid subjects like textiles or English Literature for fear of ridicule by their peers. Similarly girls may avoid subjects that go against a feminine image e.g. computing.

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