'Underachieving boys' and 'overachieving girls' Revisited

01 August 2007

There are some prevailing myths about the relative performance of boys and girls in school that require challenging. There is a profound need to dispel simplistic representation of gendered achievement in education and training, and in particular, myths around boys' underachievement. Without evidence-driven understanding, we risk misunderstanding the real standing of males and females in society as a whole, and consequently of formulating highly defective public policy. Nowhere is this risk greater than in the realm of boy friendly learning.

Media focus on so called underperforming boys pays little attention to important subtleties in the nature of the problem and in the research findings. Marks' influential pamphlet failed to highlight that both boys and girls have improved, but boys have improved less (Marks, 2001). And not all boys at all levels and ages are underperforming.

There are no simple explanations for the gender gap. However, by using an approach which brings together evidence from a very wide range of sources, and which looks at the life trajectories of boys and girls rather than simple snapshots of specific points in their education, we can gain a very clear and secure understanding of what's going on.

Many factors have an influence: learning preferences deriving from developmental distinctions between boys and girls, pupil grouping in schools, assessment techniques, the curriculum, teaching styles, teacher expectations, role models, and the way teachers reward and discipline. Ofsted have evidence of gendered behaviour by teachers - including setting, attention-management, subject choice advice, and decisions about entry to tiered papers...and more (Ofsted, 2003). Gender-stereotypical peer group pressure amongst boys significantly affects their engagement with learning (Warrington and Younger 2005).

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