The educational performance of girls has improved significantly since the 1980’s. They have overtaken boys at every level from primary to higher education. Overall, the performance of males has also improved, but at a slower rate. The following reasons have been suggested for the improvement in female performance:
Changing attitudes e.g. girls are more ambitious; changes in the adult world e.g. there are a growing number of women in the labour force and changes in schools e.g. reduction in gender bias.
In recent years, the attainment levels of some working class boys gave been particularly low. Suggested reasons include:
Changes in the job market e.g. rapid reduction in semi-skilled and unskilled jobs; changes in roles, e.g. growing number of female-headed, lone-parent families and the adoption of aggressive masculinity along with an increasing rejection of the school and its values.
The 1960’s and 1970’s saw the apparent underachievement of girls in terms of exam results. Now that has been reversed. Ted Wragg, a Professor of Education, wrote that “the underachievement of boys has become one of the biggest challenges facing society today”.
The former Chief Inspector of Schools, Chris Woodhead, said that the fall in the achievement of boys was “one of the most disturbing problems facing the education system”.
Sue Sharpe compared the attitudes of working-class girls in London schools in the early 1970’s and 1990’s. She found that the 1990’s girls were more confident, more assertive, more ambitious and more committed to gender equality. Sharpe found that the main priorities of the 1970’s girls were ‘love, marriage, husbands and children’. By 1990’s this had changed to ‘job, career and being able to support themselves’ with education being the main route to a good job. In 1994, Sue Sharpe found that girls were increasingly wary of marriage. They had seen adult relationships break up around them, and had seen women coping alone, in a ‘man’s world’. Girls were more concerned with standing on their own two feet and were more likely to see education as a means to financial independence.
Paul Willis identified an anti-school subculture in his study of working class boys in a secondary school. He identified five different subcultures within the school he studied; three concerned boys and two the girls. For girls he found:
- White, female subcultures where girls adopted ‘exaggerated femininity’ by focusing on the traditional feminine role.
- African-Caribbean female subcultures: African-Caribbean girls are pro-education, ambitious and determined to succeed and are aiming for high paid occupations. They tend not to identify with their teachers and school, because of racism. Most African-Caribbean girls usually keep a low profile and avoid confrontation in order to maintain self-respect.
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex