Exam gap between boys and girls widens

The performance gap between boys and girls at almost every stage of their education from infant school to sixth form is widening in Norfolk, new figures revealed last night.

The performance gap between boys and girls at almost every stage of their education from infant school to sixth form is widening in Norfolk, new figures revealed last night.

A host of initiatives has been introduced to attempt to boost boys' results, but figures obtained by the EDP show girls from the age of seven to 18 have continued to pull ahead in the last 10 years.

Last night, education chiefs said they expected every school in the county to look into the issue - but admitted that “everything they had tried” had failed to narrow the gap.

Teachers' leaders in Norfolk called for schools to be given more “flexibility” to come up with individual solutions for disenfranchised and disillusioned boys.

But they conceded that they were fighting against the “anti-success culture” among many boys, who see good exam results as “not cool”.

Fred Corbett, Norfolk's deputy director of children's services, said the figures showed that since 1997 the performance of boys and girls had improved significantly.

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He added: “It isn't that boys' performance has deteriorated, it's only that the gap hasn't narrowed.”

He said that from the first years at school there was a “clear difference” between the language development of girls and boys, and said all the programmes drawn up to boost the performance of boys had seen girls improve as well.”

He said: “Everything we have tried to do for boys hasn't narrowed the gap. The issue is looked at all the time and in every school. We expect every school to look at the performance of every youngster.”

Mr Corbett was hopeful that the introduction of advanced diplomas, with a greater focus on vocational learning, would “support boys' learning”.

John Barnes, Norfolk secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), called for teachers to be given “more flexibility” to come up with solutions for individual children.

He said schools were currently hindered by the “centre-driven, target-driven” culture in education, which ruled out that flexibility.

He added: “The most significant factor is differences in learning styles. The move to continuous assessment and coursework is the biggest reason for the gap widening. Boys seem to perform better in a last-minute, one-off exam that they can revise for.”

Colin Collis, county secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), said: “There's a widespread belief that it's related to the style of courses.

“Girls tend to show more diligent application. GCSE coursework favours that approach. The courses favour girls' style of learning. “Somehow, I would like to see raised performance by boys without harming the performance of girls.

“I would like to see teachers given a lot more professional autonomy. We are told what to do, how to do it and when to do it.”

Mr Collis added: “There's also an anti-success culture among boys. It's not cool to be successful. They don't want to be seen to be sucking up to their teachers. Clearly we are fighting against that attitude, particularly with boys.”

Sue Whitaker, Labour spokesman for children's services at Norfolk County Council, said: “It's important that educational standards rise. There's got to be some targeted money and support to close this gap. But it has got to begin at first school level so that it works its way through from the beginning of schooling.”