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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 October, 2003, 10:22 GMT 11:22 UK
Image 'putting boys off English'
More girls than boys take English at A-level
Not enough boys in mixed schools are taking A-levels in English literature because it is seen as a girls' subject, a government education adviser has warned.

Professor Caroline Gipps, deputy vice-chancellor of Kingston University, said it was "easier" to study in single-sex schools, as working hard and asking questions were "not done" in front of girls.

Also a member of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's advisory committee, which regulates exams, Prof Gipps said there was "quite a powerful peer group factor" involved.

She added: "In single-sex schools they are likely to be less anxious about working hard and asking questions because this is not seen as being done in front of girls.

'Quite extraordinary'

"For boys in single-sex schools, it is much easier to follow and be good at subjects like English.

"The entirety of English entry at A-level is independent and grammar schools. Virtually no boy in mixed comprehensives does English up to A-level. It is quite extraordinary."

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference in Dublin, she stressed this was not a new phenomenon, although it had been largely overlooked.

This year's A-level results showed boys accounted for less than a third of the total entries in English, the same as in 2002.

Provisional figures from the Joint Council for General Qualifications showed there were 55,451 female entries in 2003 and 23,295 from males.

'Long history'

Last year, 50,396 entries were female and 21,800 male - so, although the number of boys taking the subject increased, the relative proportions remained largely the same.

Prof Gipps: "There's a long history of boys not taking up English, which follows on from their performance in literacy (at an earlier age).

"I think it's worrying if individuals aren't choosing subjects because of stereotyping."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said the professor's statement was born out by the relative lack of males studying English at university.

He added: "It can reflect the gender of teachers in England and modern languages. They are staffed predominantly by women.

"There's the role model aspect. If you have five years in secondary school and all your English teachers are female, you are almost inevitably likely to find it less attractive as a subject option if you are a boy.

"There's no immediate reason why all subjects should be biased towards either boys or girls.

"I don't think teachers have been doing anything to make English particularly unattractive to boys or physics unattractive to girls."

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