A big distraction

A big distraction

With girls again outperforming boys at GCSEs an academic has posed the question: “Why can’t we accept it is just that they are cleverer?”

Professor Alan Smithers’ comment was not just a throw-away line; he had conducted research into this area and published a report on it.

And for the most part, I would go along with his case that he argues well.

The reasons largely follow the behaviourist line which basically means that all learning or social conditioning takes place through interaction with the environment. It therefore follows that behaviour is a response to environmental stimuli. I too would find it hard to believe that girls’ and boys’ brains are substantially different, and the scientific evidence seems to back this up.

However, from years in the classroom, it is my experience that the maturation rates of children do seem to be different between girls and boys.

This may explain why girls perform better academically earlier on in their school careers.

On other points made by Professor Smithers, I concur.

It is true that boys and girls are often exposed to different toys, play regimes and sports – and this can influence development. It may also lead to boys developing more technical and construction-type skills, with girls being attracted to more nurturing-type activities and developing in this direction.

More than 90% of nurses are women, and on building sites it is estimated that 99% of workers are men.

Also, in classrooms, a successful boy might be peppered with the insult ‘swot’ or ‘nerd’, but this type of epithet is rarely applied to girls.

Succeeding at school for girls seems to be more socially acceptable than for many boys. This too may be affecting educational outcomes.

During this debate, there are two things we should never forget.

Firstly, men and women are different and although much of our educational paths of development can be explained by behavioural scientists, it doesn’t explain it all.

We may not be able to clearly define all the differences between men and women, but we know our gender does affect our choices and preferences to some extent.

Perhaps it is simply that men’s physical strength leads them into construction and other physical jobs, and instincts of motherhood lead women to more caring and nurturing roles?

I may be generalising with little research to back it up but I don’t feel comfortable with saying that all of our behaviour can be explained by what we are exposed to as we grow up.

Secondly, discussion about the gender differences can mask bigger problems in the educational system.

The overall performance of boys and girls is not as good as it should be and the GCSE and A’ Level results are not helping us detect this.

Inflated grades and poor methods of assessment have left us believing a falsity, that things are improving – they are not!

Observations and research are one thing but what should be our response?

We should expose children to as many skill development possibilities as we can in their educational development, and this should be gender-neutral.

All children ought to have the basics in place by the time they leave primary school, and that means good numeracy and literacy.

This will ready them for the secondary school experience which should expose them equally to technical subject areas as well humanities and arts-based pursuits.

They will then be able to embrace more skill-development possibilities.

We should ensure that the system recognises academic potential early – by 13 or 14 years old – and if this is present, it should become the focus for that individual.

According to the academic bell curve, this accounts for around 25% of students.

About 75% of students should be following a more technical or vocational-style education.

The same approach should be taken for both boys and girls. The correct form of education for boys and girls should be determined by these differences and not whether we are discussing boys or girls.

To be honest, it’s a bit of a distraction.