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Thursday, 17 August, 2000, 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK
Why girls are beating 'lads'
girls celebrating A-level success
Girls now beat boys in all exams except degrees
The negative effect of a "lad" culture is one of the theories put forward to explain why girls are now outperforming boys at A-level as well as in the earlier school years.

Boys seem to have an extreme amount of pressure on them and it's very hard for them to resist the lad culture

Researcher Mary James
Dr Mary James of Cambridge University, who has researched the gender issue for the standards watchdog, Ofsted, said boys were under pressure to conform to a culture created by images in magazines.

"There are quite considerable pressures on both boys and girls, but it may be that boys find it very difficult to resist being one of the lads and pressures from the media and images from the media about what it is to be masculine," she said.

"Although people are desperately trying to create role models to show it's cool to work, boys seem to have an extreme amount of pressure on them and it's very hard for them to resist the lad culture."

Dr James, whose 16-year-old son frequently reads "lad" magazines FHM and Loaded, said young men wanted to be cool and felt they would be regarded as "geeks" if they were studious.

The acting editor of Loaded magazine, John Perry, said: "We're a magazine, so we're encouraging reading and we've got many award-winning journalists on board, so it's not low quality writing."

He said the magazine was pro-fun rather than anti-work and that readers needed a level of intelligence to "decode" it.

FHM magazine declined to comment.


Dr James said that girls were still opting out of subjects which would later yield the greater salaries, however.

Boys don't get a very good start at schoo

Prof Alan Smithers
"Although girls are doing well there's still a major gap in entry levels.

"Both boys and girls and still choosing stereotypical subjects. There is still a learning gap between girls and boys but boys are still taking the subjects that often have the higher salaries at the end of it."

Alan Smithers, professor of education at Liverpool University, said: "There's a lot of evidence that girls work harder at school and have better language skills.

"But we also have to keep this in proportion. Results of both boys and girls have improved considerably over the past 15 years."

The problem with boys' relative underperformance originated early on, at the primary level, he suggested.

"Boys don't get a very good start at school. Some experience failure and then seem to slip further out of the school context."

Lack of male teachers

The author of the anti-feminist book No More Sex Wars, journalist Neil Linden, supports the view that the problem needs to be tackled at an earlier stage.

"The key factor here is the extinction of men as teachers in primary schools," he said.

Girls now see that the top positions in industry are achievable for them

Head teacher Janet Mills
"As a society, we've seen it as essential to promote the interests and education of girls.

"Boys are less involved, more likely to be truants, more disruptive and less likely to take part in extra-curricular activity," he said.

Education Minister Baroness Blackstone said: "Girls are more conscientious, they do work rather harder, but I also think they are aware that there are jobs available for them, careers they want to do, that in the past they would have thought were not for them."

The government is anxious to investigate the issue further.

Career incentives

The headmistress of a top girls' school, Janet Mills, of Merchant Taylors' School for Girls in Liverpool, agrees.

"Girls now see that the top positions in industry are achievable for them and they have the incentive to work hard," she said.

john dunford
John Dunford: "Schools recognise the problem"
"I think women have a strong work ethic and are used to managing different aspects of our lives.

"Furthermore, I think the examination system is now more helpful to girls, because of course work and the modularity elements - girls work consistently hard whereas boys seem to leave it to the last minute and hope to pull something out of the bag."

The general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association, John Dunford, also thinks the increasing use of modular exams may be significant.

"We see the same improvement there as we saw in 1990s with GCSEs," he said.

Swinging pendulum

"Teachers have become conscious that they have to pay more attention to girls in class because boys tend to be always the first to answer questions.

"Culturally, parents' aspirations for girls used to be poorer and I think schools have compensated for that.

"What schools are beginning to realise is that they need to concentrate more on boys."

The general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, David Hart, said the growing gender gap was "a very worrying trend".

"A laddish culture, that despises academic achievement and is tolerated by far too many parents, must be changed," he said.

"If the problems besetting boys are not cracked by 11, and certainly by 14, they will cause damage throughout the rest of their school careers."

See also:

13 Aug 99 | Education
Why girls' schools do well
14 May 99 | Education
Closing the school gender gap
23 Apr 99 | Education
Books for boys
24 Jul 98 | Education
School 'gender gap' remains a mystery
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