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The BBC's Sue Littlemore
"The gender gap is likely to appear again when the GCSE results are announced"
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Minister for School Standards, Estelle Morris
"Our expectations of boys at school have got to be higher"
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Sunday, 20 August, 2000, 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK
Blunkett tackles gender divide
girls in class
Gap is narrowing in younger years
Plans to tackle boys' underachievement in the classroom have been announced by the Education Secretary, David Blunkett.

The government says it is determined to stamp out the myth among boys that is it "cool" to fail at school.

Concerns over the declining performance of boys in exams came back into the spotlight after last week's A-level results.

Girls out-performed boys for the first time in the exam's 49-year history.

We will ensure schools and education authorities have the ammunition to turn around boys' academic performance

David Blunkett

Mr Blunkett is to order all local education authorities in England and Wales to provide progress reports outlining what they are doing to tackle boys' under-achievement.

He will also speak to the Office for Standards in Education about evaluating the effectiveness of single sex teaching of some subjects in co-educational schools.

"We will pin down what works well and ensure schools and education authorities have the ammunition to turn around boys' academic performance," Mr Blunkett said.

Male role models

The government is concerned that a macho, anti-authoritarian culture of "laddism" among teenage boys is affecting their studies.

Mr Blunkett said that to help counter this, better male role models were needed in schools, and in society generally.

He wanted to encourage more male teachers into the teaching profession.

male teacher in class
Wanted: More male teachers

Currently, 83% of primary and nursery teachers were women.

"The gap that has opened up between the sexes at school is a long-standing and international problem for which there is no quick fix, but I am determined that our boys should not miss out," he said.

Mr Blunkett said a gender and achievement website would be launched for the start of the school year, which wound include advice on how best to raise the performance of underachieving boys.

Schools and LEAs would also be able to hear experts' opinions at a series of regional conferences.

'World economic climate'

School Standards Minister Estelle Morris insisted on Sunday that the government was not about to force schools to become single sex.

But it did want to see whether single sex classes for some subjects had worked for the schools which had been experimenting with the idea.

She said: "If you look just 10,15 years ago, it was possible for boys to leave school with no qualifications and get a good job that gave them self-esteem and status and a decent wage, and often to keep that job for life. It's not like that any more.

Estelle Morris
Estelle Morris: "Doing well at school is OK"

"I think the problem is that boys' culture in terms of valuing learning and being proud to do well at school really has not really caught up with the changes in the world economic climate.

"It's got to be cool to learn. Doing well at school is OK."

The Tories accused Mr Blunkett of "clutching at straws" and said that the government was itself to blame for boys' poor performance compared with girls.

Shadow Education Secretary Theresa May said: "This is a problem that they are reaping as a result of their efforts to encourage girls to do well at school.

"The government are going to have to face up to the fact that, as a consequence of their heavy-handed interference, they have widened the academic gap between the sexes."

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See also:

17 Aug 00 | Education
Why girls are beating 'lads'
09 Feb 00 | Education
Making school cool for boys
06 Oct 99 | Education
Boys close the gap over reading
13 Aug 99 | Education
Why girls' schools do well
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