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Thursday, 22 August, 2002, 08:13 GMT 09:13 UK
Addressing the gender gap
What's to be done about the boys?
Education ministers can only repeat that they are worried by the "unacceptable" fact that girls beat boys in their GCSEs - by nine percentage points at the top grades this year.
Some people blame a "laddish culture" among boys, which says it is not cool to study hard.
Some say the exams are more geared towards girls because of the coursework involved.
Both claims are being played down by the government, but what is the view in schools?
'Raise their game'
Birmingham head teacher Dexter Hutt, of the Ninestiles School, says boys are spending too much time watching football and not enough on their studies.
"They need to raise their game," he said.
"The main reason for this is the culture of football that we have.
"A lot of lads are watching a lot of football during the week.
"I would guess that many boys are spending hours and hours playing Championship Manager on the computer and becoming real experts and it's time that would be better spent on their GCSEs."
One of Mr Hutt's students, Califah, who was pleased with his results of two Bs and seven Cs, says: "It's all down to personal drive.
His class mate, Kerry (two A*s, two As and eight Bs) says it's a question of maturity.
"Girls mature earlier, they know what's got to be done and they do it," she said.
Parent Karen Tate agrees. Her children attend Coundon Court School in Coventry, which this year bucked the national trend by having boys achieve as high grades as girls.
The school taught boys separately for some lessons.
Karen Tate said: "My daughter is more determined. She knows what she wants to do.
The general secretary of the National Association of head Teachers, David Hart, said boys were dragging down the overall achievement.
"There is not a cat in hell's chance of significantly reducing the 40% of results that are below grade C, unless the boys raise their game," he said.
"There are no quick-fix solutions to the problems caused by the anti-learning laddish culture.
"But solutions will have to be found if the government's performance targets are to be met by the next election."
The government says work is being done to try to close the gender gap.
The Education Minister Margaret Hodge, says she wants to "move away" from the claim that laddish culture is to blame.
"We are giving scholarships to teachers who are good at dealing with gender difference.
"In the classroom, teachers are experimenting with teaching boys separately to girls, thinking about where they place the boys, sitting them boy-girl, boy-girl, rather than in a group of boys or girls."
She also said it was important to choose texts which appealed to boys or girls, so that each could work on passages which interested them.
The exam boards insist they do everything they can to make their question papers and coursework gender-neutral.
The government has also tried to encourage fathers in particular to get more involved in their sons' education - arguing that research shows this can have an important effect on their attainment.
One of the other claims made about girls out-performing boys is that it is because of a heavy element of course-work in GCSEs.
He says coursework used to make up about 50% of GCSEs but now accounts for just 25% of the marks.
Sir William also says you cannot just blame laddish culture for the gender gap.
"First of all, not all boys need to hang their heads in shame this morning," he said.
"Many are doing exceptionally well.
"I'm not so sure the spotlight should be on the boys, but on those who are helping to stimulate the boys.
"It's to do with the teachers in the classroom, the schools and the organisation, rather than the lads themselves."
At the Secondary Heads Association, general secretary John Dunford said parents had to do more.
"The widening gap is disappointing because schools have put enormous effort in recent years into raising the achievements of boys," he said.
"It is not enough for parents to say, 'Oh well, boys will be boys' - schools need mothers and fathers to give more encouragement to their sons to perform well academically.
"I would agree that improved vocational qualifications and a clearer route to employment would help to motivate boys."
The leader of the biggest teachers' union the NUT, Doug McAvoy, said there needed to be "a thorough review".
"The fact that the gap between boys and girls has widened again at GCSE needs to be examined," he said.
"That gap is evident at A-level as well and should not simply be ignored by the government.
But his counterpart at the second biggest union, the NASUWT, Eamonn O'Kane, was more relaxed about the figures.
"I think too much can be made about the disparity in results between girls and boys," he said.
He said such phenomena had a habit of adjusting themselves, as was evidenced by last year's results - when the gap narrowed very slightly.
One boy who is not worried about fitting in with laddish culture is 12 year old Adam Duchateau from Ealing in west London.
He scored an A* in GCSE maths at Clifton Lodge School.
He said: "I heard that boys think it's not cool to study. That doesn't bother me.
"As long as you've got your head screwed on then I don't see the problem with working hard," he said.
The table below shows by how much girls outperform boys at grade C and above in all subjects in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
(A negative figure indicates that boys do better.)
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