The Effects of Gender Differences in Compulsory Education Achievements on Children

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Gender has a major impact on the experience of education for individuals. While together sexes have elevated their level of achievement, in recent years there have occurred some significant changes, where girls have surpassed boys. The rapid rate in which girls’ achievement has enhanced has resulted in a substantial gap between them and the boys. There are various key factors that have heavy influence on what tends to cause gender differences in achievement and I will be focusing on internal factors i.e. within schools and the education system and external factors i.e. at home and wider society.

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Factors within the education system and at schools are pivotal and play an important role in clarifying gender differences in achievement. It cannot be ignored that feminist ideas have had a very huge influence of the education system and has very much raised awareness of gender issues where schools and teachers are more delicate to the need to prevent gender stereotyping. The acceptances that boys and girls are equivalently efficient and eligible to the same opportunities are now a fragment of the mainstream view in education and it definitely influences educational policies. Examples of policies include the National Curriculum which was introduced in 1988, had gotten rid of one cause of gender inequality by presenting the notion that both boys and girls are to study the same subjects, which in previous times was very rare or not something common; encouraging girls to work harder and achieve more. This results in assisting to balance opportunities for all pupils and allowing barriers from previous times to be removed. Jo Boaler (2002) sees the changes in in girls’ achievement and ‘as a result, many feminists and others with equity concerns have developed a range of initiatives that have been successful at raising girls' achievement, if not their continued participation … and stereotyped attitudes … for girls are largely disappearing.’ (Boaler, 2002, p.137-138).

According to the Department for Education, official statistics from gender of school staff ‘almost three out of four school teachers are female and four out of five school employees are female. The percentage of full-time equivalent school staff by gender: November 2016 73.9 per cent of FTE teachers are female. 84.6 per cent of FTE nursery/primary school teachers are female and 62.5 per cent of secondary school teachers. 91.4 per cent of teaching assistants and 82.2 per cent of school support staff are female. Overall, 80.2 per cent of all school staff are female. The percentage of female teachers has increased over time. In 2010, 72.9 per cent of full-time equivalent teachers were female and this percentage has increased in each year. By 2016, 73.9 per cent of full-time equivalent teachers were female.’ As there has been a growth in the quantity of female teachers and head teachers present in schools in recent years, this creates active positive role models for young girls to encourage them to have high aspirations. By having females be in positions of authority, it gives girls non-stereotypical goals and achievements to aim for as to become a teacher, one has to go through a time consuming and prosperous education herself. Contrastingly, it can be argued that schools – primary in particular, have been made to be ‘overly feminised’ with predominantly female staff.

Some sociologists argue that the changes that have been made to the curriculum with the ways in which students are being assessed have deprived boys and more so favoured girls. Stephen Gorard (2005) suggests that the gender gap in achievements is a ‘product of the changed system of assessment rather than any more general failing of boys’. Gender gap in achievement was always present but Gorard highlights that it had increased abruptly in 1988, the year in which GCSEs were introduced and had coursework as major assessments for most subjects. Girls are seen to be more successful in coursework because they are more diligent and organised than boys are, as claimed by Eirene Mitsos and Ken Browne (1998), who support Gorard’s argument. Factors that have assisted girls to gain from the introduction of coursework include that they are able to meet deadlines, spend more time on their work and take care and put effort into presentation. Mitsos and Browne also reveal that girls benefit from maturing ahead of boys and from their capability to focus for longer. These skills and characteristics which girls possess are a result of early gender role socialisation at home, e.g. girls are taught to be neat, clean up after themselves and more enduring than boys are encouraged to be. Conversely, Jannette Elwood (2005) critiques this and proposes that while coursework somewhat has influence, it is improbable to be the only factor of gender gap in achievement. Exploring the importance of coursework and written exams, she settles that exams have further influence on final grades than coursework does.

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