Attainment: Closing the gender gap

SecEd asks what should we be doing about the achievement gap between girls and boys? School leader Caroline Sherwood discusses the impact that gender stereotyping can have and the challenges faced by schools and teachers. 

There has been a long-standing gender gap at GCSE for those attaining five-plus A* to C grades: since 1988, on this threshold measure, a significant gender gap in favour of girls has emerged.

This gap has grown over time and, in individual school settings, fluctuates. The national picture for 2015/16 revealed that boys underperformed compared to girls in every key stage 4 attainment measure.

The multifarious research on gender suggests that, as classroom practitioners, we should be differentiating our teaching to satisfy the demands of gender differences.

Recent studies suggest it is the environment that we create for our children that has the greatest impact on the way they learn and what they learn. As classroom practitioners this is reassuring: we can make a difference.

We must not pass on our inherited assumptions to our pupils. Children’s brains are significantly more pliable and malleable than adults’ brains, which means that what happens on a daily basis in your classroom is shaping your pupils’ brains and ultimately their futures.

If you asked your colleagues why boys’ achievement is lower than girls’ – what would be their response? Poor work ethic? They just don’t want it as much? Expectations result in realities. The reality is that unyielding gender role expectations limit our pupils from their potential and from future opportunities.

In Teach Like A Champion, Doug Lemov states: “One consistent finding of academic research is that high expectations are the most reliable driver of high student achievement, even in students who do not have a history of successful achievement.”

Talk explicitly with your pupils in terms of rigour, determination, dedication and scholarship because the higher the expectations you have of your pupils, the better they will perform. The opposite of this (the Pygmalion Effect) is the Golem Effect – if we expect our pupils to perform badly, they will. 

A determined and deliberate approach in your classroom married with a whole-school approach to challenging gender cultures will make a difference. Remember: “It’s in schools where gender constructions are less accentuated that boys tend to do better” (Francis and Skelton, 2008).

Read more Attainment: Closing the gender gap

Do you use your high expectations to drive your pupils to achieve more? Please tell us your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter ~ Tamsin

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