e) The changes in educational attainment of males and females in recent years are due to many factors. 20 years ago women were not expected to, and did not succeed academically but instead, aimed to become a housewife. Girls were given no incentive to do well in school as they knew all the well paid, high profile jobs were for the men and equal opportunities were not regarded as important. However, today girls are achieving better than boys in education with the proportion of women attending higher education being higher than the proportion of men.
This change can be explained firstly by the feminist movement, which has led to changing attitudes towards women’s roles and also to their expectations of career opportunities. Men were always expected to go to work and support the family and girls were expected to make marriage and motherhood their primary concerns. Feminism has helped to challenge these ideas and to give girls greater confidence in their abilities. Sue Sharpe in a 1976 survey discovered a girl’s main priority was ‘love and marriage’.
The same survey in 1996 revealed a girl’s main priority had changed to ‘a career’ and ‘being able to support herself’ showing a change in women’s perceptions of their wants and roles in life. She also discovered that girls were more confident, assertive, ambitious and more commuted to gender equality. Equal opportunities in schools have enabled girls to fulfil their potential more easily. Monitoring of teaching and teaching materials for sex bias has helped schooling meet the needs of girls better.
Teachers are now much more sensitive about avoiding gender stereotyping in the classroom overcoming many former problems that faced girls in educational achievement. More employment opportunities have also made girls more ambitious and motivated in school as the number of ‘male’ jobs has declined in recent years. Many girls today have mothers in paid employment, providing more positive role models for them to do well and follow a similar path. By 2002, the number of men and women in paid employment was virtually the same (Social Trends, 2003) and young girls often see their future in the workplace and value education as a means to a good job.
Girls have also witnessed a growing number of divorce rates proving to them that women can cope alone and do not have to be dependant on a man resulting in them seeing education as a means to financial independence. Whilst the performance of female students has increased over the last 20 years, performance of male students has not improved at the same rate. Boys are thought to be suffering increasingly from low self-esteem and poor motivation and seem less willing to struggle to overcome difficulties in understanding.
Girls continue to put more effort into work and give more thought about their futures and to the importance of qualifications in achievement of this. However, not all boys are failing and there is a close link between male underachievement and social class with a study by Epstein in 1998 showing that a high proportion of working class boys are failing. Teacher’s gender-biased expectations of male and female behaviour may result in them not being as strict with boys as with girls as they expect boy’s work to be late and untidy and expect them to be disruptive.
This means that teacher’s are less concerned about boy’s progress as they are expected to underachieve when compared to girls. Browne and Mitsos in 1998 suggested that boys lose valuable learning time by messing about, getting sent out of the room and by being excluded. Another reason for male underachievement could be the major decline in traditional male jobs influencing boys’ lack of motivation and ambition. There is some evidence however, to show that girls performing better than boys in education is not necessarily a new thing.
Chitty in 2002 showed that when the 11 plus was first introduced in the 1940’s, more girls passed than boys but the results were fiddled with so that roughly the same number of males and females went to a grammar school. If these results hadn’t been adjusted then two-thirds of grammar school places would have gone to girls. Plummer in 2000 also suggested that the preoccupation with so-called ‘failing boys’ diverts attention from underachieving girls. Social class is significant with girls as much as it is boys with a high proportion of working class girls failing in the school system.
There is still also a pattern of which gender choose which subjects to study at further education. Boys continue to dominate sciences, technology and maths whilst girls continue to choose the arts, English and biological science. Overall, the educational performance of girls has improved significantly since the 1980’s due to the impact of feminism and opening opportunities for females. In general their improvement has been greater than that of boys but this does not necessarily mean that boys as a group are failing but are improving at a slower rate.