labelling, subcultures, the feminisation of teaching, coursework and boys’ overconfidence are all possible reasons.
In-school factors which may explain the gender gap in education include labelling, laddish subcultures and the feminisation of teaching.
Swann and Graddol (1994) found that teachers tend to see boys as unruly and disruptive and are more likely to spend time telling them off than helping them with schoolwork. Teachers have lower expectations of boys and so are less inclined to push them hard to achieve high standards. Because of their disruptive behaviour they are more likely to be excluded. Four out of five permanent exclusions are boys. With Ladette culture this may be changing (Jackson, 2006)
John Abraham (1986) asked teachers to describe a typical boy and a typical girl – The typical boy was described as not particularly bright, likes a laugh and always attention seeking, often by messing around. The typical girl is bright, well –behaved and hard working, being quiet and timid. As a result he found that boys were told off much more easily than girls.
Subcultures and ‘Laddishness’
Working class boys especially tend to form anti-school subcultures. Paul Willis (1977) found this with his research with the lads, Tony Sewell (1997) argues that there is a black –anti school masculinity and Diane Reay et al (2003) found that boys felt they had little control over their educational learning and so seek power through other negative strategies.
Unlike the anti-social subculture discovered by Paul Willis, some researchers such as Abrahams (1988) and Mirza (1992) have found evidence of pro-school female subcultures who actively encourage each other to study.
Carolyn Jackson (2006) – Found that laddish behaviour had important benefits – it made students seam cool and thus popular. She also argued that it was a response to the fear of failure – it made students seam unbothered about failing, so if they did FAIL they would not look bad. Furthermore, if lads and ladettes did well, they would be labelled as a genius – doing well with apparently no effort
Frosh and Phoenix – Mainly focus group interviews but some individual interviews Sample of 245 boys and 27girls in 12 schools Young Masculinities (2000) Found that few boys were able to be both popular and academically successful Conscientious boys who tried hard at school were often labelled as feminine or gay.
The Feminisation of teaching
There are more female than male teachers, especially in primary school where only 15% of teachers are male.
In line with women increasingly going into more professional careers, secondary schooling has also seen a rise in female teachers. This means that girls increasingly have positive role models while boys may fail to identify with female teachers.
One consequence of there being fewer male teachers working in primary schools is that the curriculum, teaching styles and means of assessment, are more appropriate to the learning styles of girls. Consequently government strategies of teacher recruitment now suggest that pupils will benefit from ‘gender-matching’ with teachers.
Some primary schools do not have any male staff members at all, and this can be especially problematic for boys with learning difficulties who tend to respond better to male staff.
The introduction of coursework
Coursework was introduced with the 1988 Education Act and this is precisely when girls started to outperform boys in education. Coursework may benefit girls in education because they are better organised and more likely to do work outside of lessons.
Michael Barber (1996) showed that boys overestimate their ability, and girls underestimate theirs. Francis research in 3 London schools (1998-9) found that some boys thought it would be easy to do well in exams without having to put much effort in. When they fail they tend to blame the teacher or their own lack of effort, not ability and feel undervalued.
However, there is a counter argument to this (1). Boys with the same ability as girls tend to have better exam performance in specifically maths, and it seems that girls’ lack of confidence in what they perceive to be technically demanding subjects results in them being less likely to choose STEM subjects and perform less well than their intellectual peers in maths.
Limitations of in school factors in explaining differences in educational achievement
The introduction of coursework in 1988 seams to have had a major impact on girl’s surging ahead of boys because girls suddenly surged ahead at this time
Research by Skelton et al found that the Feminisation of teaching does not have a negative impact on educational performance of boys. They found that most pupils and teachers reported that matching pupils and teachers by gender did not significantly affect pupils’ educational experiences. Sixty-five per cent of children rejected the idea that the gender of the teacher mattered, with no major differences between girls and boys. The majority of pupils also believed that the behaviour of male and female teachers in the classroom was generally very similar in terms of fairness, encouragement and discipline.
Out of school factors must also play a role – boys learn to be ‘typical boys’ at home first of all and then their peers just reinforce this.
Don’t exaggerate the extent of male underachievement – boys are still improving in education and are now catching up with girls once more.
This post has been written primarily for students of A-level sociology and is one of the major topics within the sociology of education module.
In-school factors are usually contrasted to Home based factors which explain gender differences in educational achievement.
Another closely related topic within education is that of the relationship between education and gender identity.
(1) (1) Chiara Cavaglia, Stephen Machin, Sandra McNally, and Jenifer Ruiz-Valenzuela (2020) Gender, achievement, and subject choice in English education
(2) Gender Trust: Gender Inequality in the British Education System