Gender and Achievement

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Patterns and Trends

  • Both boys and girls are improving; over the last 50 years the educational performance of boys has steadily improved, whilst the performance of girls has risen at a faster rate at some levels in some subjects. Coffey says this hardly justifies labeling boys as underachievers. 
  • Only some boys are underachieving, and there is a strong link between boys underachievement and social class. Epstein et al show that, compared to other groups, a high proportion of working class boys are failing. 
  • The pre-occupation with failing boys, diverts the attention away from underachieving girls. Plummer's research suggests a high proportion of working class girls are failing in the school system.
  • Gender is not the only factor that contributes to underachievement. Both class and ethnicity play a big part. 

Explanations for Girls' Improvement in Education (FFEA)

Out of School Factors

1. Feminism: 

  • Since the 1960's feminism has changed the traditional stereotype of a woman's role as mother and housewife within a patriarchal family. It has also altered and raised girls' expectations and ambitions with regards to career and family. 
  • These changes are partly reflected in media images and messages. An example of this is McRobbie's study on magazines; in the 1970's magazine the emphasis was on marriage, whilst in the 1990's it was on career and independence.

2. Changes in the family:

  •  There have been a number of changes in the family recently, such as increase in divorce rate, increase in cohabitation and increase in lone-parent families (mainly female headed). 
  • These changes affect girls' attitudes to education, as, for example increased numbers of female headed lone-parent families mean that more woman take on the role of the main earner. This creates a new, financially independent role model for girls. The need for good qualifications is made clear. 

3. Changes in Women's Employment:

  • The proportion of women in employment has risen from 50% in 1959 to over 70% in 2007. Some women are breaking through the barrier and gaining high level proffessional jobs which that would have been previously denied to. These greater opportunities provide an incentive for girls to do well in education. 

4. Girls' changing ambitions

  • The view that changes in the family and employment are producing changes in girls' ambitions is supported by research. 
  • An example if Sue Sharpe's interviews carried out with girls in 1970's and girls in 1990's. In the 70's girls had low aspirations, saw education as unfeminine, and their priorities were of love, marriage, husbands and children before careers. In in 90's however, girls were more likely to see their future as independent women with a career, rather than being dependent on their husband and his income. 

In School Factors (ORGASL)

1. Equal opportunities policies 

  • The belief that boys and girls should have the same opportunities in school is now part of mainstream thinking. Policies such as GIST and WISE encourage girls to pursue careers in non tradition areas. Also, the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1988 meant that girls and boys learn…


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