The gender divide and achievement
“Therefore, if unemployment decreases from 8% to 7% it may be reported as a decrease of 1%, whereas it actually represents a decrease of 1 point or 12. 5% of the original. This lack of differentiation between percentages and percentage points can lead to serious misinterpretation in other circumstances, such as when two such sets of figures are involved” (Gorard, G. Rees, G. & Salisbury, J 1999: 442). This flaw in methodological analysis may be a possible explanation to the growth of the gender gap. Combining both the gender gap as well as gender divisions in experience evidence by Matthews (Independent 05.
01. 04) found that girl’s achievement is not matched in the labour market compared to boys. There are less than 10% of women in top jobs and the pay gap remains to be 18% between men and women. Francis and Skelton (2005) support this view by focusing on the importance of taking a closer look at the figures on and gender and achievement despite the changes in overall patterns of gender performance. “They have been shown by the Equal Opportunities Commission to provide one of the key explanations for the continuing gender pay-gap, where in Britain men continue to earn on average more than women” (2005: 111).
Moving onto ‘race’ and ethnicity, I found that it is a difficult term to conceptualise. Sociologically, ‘race’ is arguably defined as an “ideological, not a scientific, construct. ” The extension of Stuart Hall’s thinking has had significant importance in conceptualising ‘race’ and ethnicity by treating race, ethnicity, culture and racism as separate entities. Within the research of gender and education, it has been found that definitions of ethnicity vary, making comparisons difficult. One example is of the term ‘black identity,’ which became widely proposed as a political identity whereby non-white groups could unite to challenge racism.
“However, it’s political potential was challenged by ‘other’ minority ethnic groups, like ‘Asians’, who argued that their interests are not fully represented or engaged with sufficiently under the banner of ‘Black’ (Archer and Francis 2007: 29). Looking at social class and ethnicity, it was found that Chinese pupils on Free School Meals were found to out-perform their counterparts from other ethnic groups and were more likely to go onto further compulsory education. Although viewing ethnicity and academic achievement together is important, it can also create ideologies.
For example within new discourses the emersion of ‘problem boys’ have been found within working-class White, Black/dual-carriage heritage and Muslim boys. The disproportionate over-representation of Black boys being excluded from schools, are creating stereotypes of Black boys as the “archetypical ‘problem pupil’ (Archer and Francis 2007: 23). Another point that interested me was that of the current affairs with Islamaphobia following the terror attacks of 09/11 and 07/07, where currently Muslim boys are also joining the stereotype of the ‘problem boys’ (Archer in Archer and Francis, 2007:23).
Feminists’ responses conclude that raising boys achievements should not be at the expense of girls. Warrington and Younger (2000) point out that underachieving girls are made to be invisible as the focus is more on boys. Research on “Failing working-class girls” by Gillian Plummer, found that the girls suffered emotional and psychological factors which influenced their education, including their home life. This shows that the home still remains important in the form of primary and secondary socialisation which may impact one later on in life.
Policies have been introduced to benefit both girls and boys by the introduction of single-sex classes within certain subjects and also the encouragement for boys and girls to sit and work together has been promoted to discourage the “school is uncool” notion. All classes do not adopt this idea of school being “uncool” as Walkerdine (2000) explain that the middle classes view education as fundamentally important and achievable, whereas the working-class do not have the same confidence in the education system.
There is less pressure to achieve especially among boys as found in Paul Willis’ (1977) Learning to Labour, where working class boys traditionally learned their fathers’ occupation and rejected the middle class notions of living. For working-class girls it was similar, as girls were viewed as inferior and education was of no use for them, because they became housewives and reared children. Other changes need to be made within the emotional side of boys as Salisbury, et al (1998) point out that changing the macho culture needs relationship work with boys.
For example the acceptance of emotional males and those who choose not to conform to hegemonic masculinity. Contemporary research shows findings where the gender gap is shrinking in terms of subjects chosen, examination achievement, excelling onto further education. But the issue of the gender pay gap will always remain a problem, even with the few numbers of women breaking through the ‘glass ceiling. ‘ Many have reached executive levels of occupation, but managerial positions are still male-dominated.
Recent research including results produced by media commentators show that standards are improving for all pupils, but girls are outperforming boys at all stages of education. As mentioned earlier, crisis of masculinities are one of the reasons explored today in relation to boys’ underachieving, and its solution is individual relationship work. There is a change in the social attitudes towards girls in contemporary society, where girls’ achievement may not be matched in the labour market with boys, but they see a future in the labour market rather than just domestic work.
Middle class women combine work and childcare as well as mother role, whereas working class women always work. This brings me on to another possible solution of the need of men as role models for underachieving boys. As there are mainly female teachers in primary schools, girls find it easier to relate to them causing boys to be unmotivated to work and achieve. But there is also the issue of men being paid more in primary school teaching as well as promotional opportunities, compared to women, which increases the gender pay gap.
In my readings I have found that conclusively, gender is and will remain to be a marker in education for underachievement. However we must be aware of how class and ethnicity interact with gender and also explore which is the most significant. The constant media coverage of the competition of gender in education will cause the gender gap to continuously grow and shrink, but undoubtedly it will always remain and exist.
Word count- 2,149 BIBLIOGRAPHY Archer, L. & Francis, B (2007) Understanding Minority Ethnic Achievement: Race, gender, class and ‘success’, Routledge Explores the issue of minority ethnic achievement examining the views, identities and educational experiences of achieving pupils who tend to remain ignored. Also provides a detailed case study of an educationally successful group, the British-Chinese. Cox, T. (2000) Combating Educational Disadvantage: Meeting the needs of vulnerable children, Falmer press Support for the idea of socio-economic factors being key influences on the achievement of pupils. Francis, B & Skelton, C. (2005) Reassessing Gender and Achievement, Routledge.
This book sets out to ask and answer the practical and philosophical questions at the heart of the debates around gender and achievement. Investigates why boys’ underachievement is widely looked at and how effective the strategies to improve boys’ performance are. Gorard, G. Rees, G. & Salisbury, J. (1999) Reappraising the apparent underachievement of boys at school. Gender and Education, 11,4. Challenges the view of the growth of the gender gap and also looks at flaws of methodological analysis of results.
Used data from Key Stage statutory assessment and GCSE examination results for all pupils at school in Wales from 1992 to 1997 Also takes looks at policies to reduce achievement gaps. Plummer, G. (2000) Failing Working-Class Girls. Trentham. Analyses her own experience as well as others in families with low expectations of education influenced how women from w/c backgrounds still rarely achieve higher level academic qualifications as well as the life-style they lead. Important reading in investigating the under-represented underachieving girls.