Girls are now appearing to have a higher ability to succeed in education than boys in today’s schooling system. There are many issues concerning this area and these have been supported by a range of theorists using key studies and concepts to establish this further.
The impact of feminism on the female population has gradually increased since the 1960’s when feminist sociologists highlighted the idea of an education system filled with gender inequalities. These sociologists suggested that there was an apparent ‘gendered language’ which dominated the way in which children were taught in schools. This language subtly reflected the wider society by using school textbooks with predominantly male references such as ‘he,’ ‘him,’ ‘his,’ and ‘man’ or ‘men’ when describing the characters in books. This suggestion is also linked to ‘Gendered roles’ in school textbooks where males and females tended to take on traditional roles such as; women as housewives and mothers and males taking on patriarchal roles. These concepts are increasingly noticeable in the reading schemes of the 1960’s and 70’s although this is more often than not less obvious in the education system today. Feminists also argue that women in the curriculum today, tend to take on lower roles in the education system than their male counterparts. Women today who are often as qualified as males are subject to second place positions and are argued to have been ‘hidden from history’ and that history has been ‘the history of men.’
Gendered stereotypes in reading schemes are obvious particularly in primary school education examples of this are; boys being presented as more adventurous than girls, as physically stronger and as having more choices. Girls on the other hand are presented as more caring, more interested in domestic matters and as followers rather than leaders (Labban 1974.) These suggestions therefore provided males in the education system with some what better role models at the time but with the increase of female representatives this idea was then questioned.
These theories can therefore be linked to the behaviour of educated females from the 1960’s and 70’s and is a reason why after taking these into account females have helped to change the way in which girls are presented and treated in the education system today, the idea of a meritocratic society in schools is illogical in these examples and can be argued to be as such nowadays.
The introduction of the Equal Opportunities Reform Act initiated in the UK between 1988 and 1994 was another key factor in the rise in achievement of females in the education system. This initiative was rejected by A. H. Halsey who argued that the education system in western societies provided a lack of equality and opportunity. The EOC study (educational reforms and gender equality in schools) highlighted equal opportunities as its main aim in 1993 in their improvement ideas entitled a ‘gender-fair culture.’ The found that the education system was sexist and that gender issues stifled the education of females in the education system. The introduction of the national curriculum, which then followed, showed improvements in the possibilities of gender specific subject choices above the age of 12 for both girls and boys although in light of the change of the number of compulsory subjects to be studied by students there was a reintroduction of sex-stereotyping alongside increased choice. It is suggested that females are best suited to the education system as they tend to learn in the style which is taught in schools, this being the instructional approach, scientists have proven that females use whole brain learning and tend to adapt to the learning process of school accordingly. This is in contrast to males who tend to learn kinaesthetically using the left side of their brain. It is also suggested that females have flourished since the introduction of G.I.S.T and G.C.S.E’s whereby females have the opportunity to study using coursework which favours the conscientious nature of females and the consistent work rates of females.
Role models directed at females in the education system have been limited in the past although the growing number of female figureheads has helped to increase the self esteem of girls in the education system. The increase in employment opportunities for women has now enabled them to have higher expectations and `ambitions; it also has transformed what was once a typical view of women in past years to another approach, that of the work and career values replacing traditional family and marriage values (Sharpe, 1994.) Another theory suggests that the increase of diversity in the family, such as; being reared in a matrifocal family, provides girl’s with a female role model in replace of the traditional head of the family (the father) and has enabled them to take up a less subordinate role in society which ultimately improves their status in the social order by their willingness to be free from dependence on a man this is suggested to have a diverse affect on the males of a matrifocal household where they lack the guidance of the patriarchy (rule by the father) – (Jackson 1998). This theory has led to females appreciating the need for a good education in order to obtain a good job so they can support the family they belong to dependent or independent of a male figure.
Changes in the workforce have also enabled females to aspire to achieve more in the education system and therefore there has been a steady rise in the number of women in the labour force. Social trends 2003, found that by 2003 the number of men and women in paid employment was virtually the same. Working mothers therefore provide inspirational role models for their daughters and as a result girls were more likely to see their future in the workforce and therefore valued their education more and strived to achieve better grades (Social Trends 2003). On the other hand changes in male roles in society and the workforce in the form of the decline in manual jobs and the increasing automation of production there has been a vast reduction in unskilled and semi skilled unpaid jobs, this therefore has affected the attainment and aspirations of males, especially in the working classes, in the education system. (Social trends 2003.) Jobs now available for working class boys are now in the service sector which requires a high level of sensitivity and social skills, (Mahony 1998) therefore females in this social class are more employable to this sector than males.
Changes in the curriculum has created an increase in the achievement of girls as they are now able to achieve higher grades by the help of coursework which is more suitable to female students than male, this is because of the way the education system is designed, as stated above, with whole brain learning and instructional approach. Because of the unfair disadvantages placed upon males in the education system they are more prone to create an anti school subculture in response to the situation they are faced with, as identified by Paul Willis’ study of males in a secondary school in Birmingham. These were identified as ‘the lads’ and conformist pupils as ‘the earoles’. This experiment, and in experiments carried out by Bowles and Gintis, found that what the boys took out of school was similar to the behaviour also found in the workplace.
The labelling theory also hinders the expectations and achievement of males which then makes way for the good attainment of girls in schools although it is suggested that not all girls in the education system achieve higher grades than that of boys. Research indicates that teachers are more likely to define middle class children as ‘able, ‘good students’ and ‘well behaved’ more so than working class children therefore there is a high possibility that most female children from working class backgrounds will underachieve more so than male children from the middle class. Although it is apparent that females of the same ethnicity and class overachieve their male counterparts, the self fulfilling prophecy (Robert K. Merton) performed by teachers also obstructs the ability to achieve as a boy in the education system as they more often than not have a fixed bad attitude towards boys and a fixed good attitude towards girls. Although males in the classroom environment generally require more attention and interaction than girls, it would seem that girls are more capable of learning through non-kinesthetic or an auditory means unlike boys.
Finally, the hidden curriculum which includes ‘the unwritten and often unstated rules and regulations which guide and direct everyday school behavior’ (Ballantine and Spade 2001) is a part of the school system in so much as the use of sets and streams whereby girls tend to be in higher sets than boys. In primary education classes are generally taught in mixed-ability groups although there appears to be a correlation between the amounts of males in lower sets than girls which could therefore be as a result of labeling by teachers of their students. The disproportionate numbers of boys in lower sets can also say something about inequality in the wider society, this situation can create an anti school subculture where the male pupils refuse to conform to the norms and values of their school. This culture can reflect the male’s attitudes in work and therefore reduce their chances of excelling in school and in the wider society.
In conclusion all of the above examples are example of why females now tend to achieve more than males in the education system.
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex