Page last updated at 23:04 GMT, Monday, 8 June 2009 00:04 UK

Girls 'hampered by failure fears'

Girl in exam
Girls tend to perform better than boys at school

Girls have a greater fear of failure than boys despite outperforming them at all stages of school, a report said.

And these worries could seriously affect their chances of succeeding in school and work, the Equality and Human Rights Commission study claimed.

It also suggested girls often aim for careers reinforcing gender stereotypes, such as teaching, childcare and beauty.

A government spokesman said all children should have access to good quality impartial careers advice.

But some 94% of the 1,000 English teenagers surveyed for the report said they needed better careers advice.

The Commission's report suggested a fifth of young people had not received one-to-one careers advice, and did not understand how to achieve their desired goal.

Schools are looking to see if pupils fit into the system and can perform well
Equality and Human Rights Commission

It said despite girls' success at GCSE, three quarters of women still ended up in the "five Cs" of employment - cleaning, catering, caring, cashiering and clerical.

This was partly due to stereotyping of subject choices at school, and school staff consciously or unconsciously encouraging boys and girls to seek what they perceived to be gender appropriate subjects.

The report for Britain's equalities watchdog looked at what factors affected children's chances of succeeding in education.

It found that although a child's social background was the biggest determinant of whether they would succeed, gender also had an effect.

Some 46% of white working class girls feared educational failure, compared with about a quarter of white middle class boys.

White working class boys and white middle class girls were equally fearful of failure on 38%.

Children from poorer backgrounds tended to be less confident of success generally.


The research suggested that some young people developed an ingrained sense of failure, often due to the school's emphasis on measuring success by test results.

Findings suggest this can result in feelings of anxiety and fear which can lead to students dropping out of the education system.

The report said one in 10 was so disillusioned that they were considering leaving education or training.

It pointed out that the traditional system of education was seen as the most important, with vocational training and apprenticeships not sufficiently promoted as alternatives.

It said: "Schools are looking to see if pupils fit into the system and can perform well.

"If pupils are not able to cope with this, the current set-up rarely provides for them. They are all too often left on the margins and neglected."

However, the poll suggested 95% of youngsters felt they were doing "very well" or "fairly well".

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "We will be consulting on statutory guidance this year, and challenging stereotypes will be a key principle.

"New quality standards came into force last year which set out the services that local authorities should deliver, including challenging gender-stereotyping and traditional ideas of learning and work."

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