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Outline and evaluate explanations of gender differences in educational attainment

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Topics: Gender, Feminism, Female, Girl
"Outline and evaluate explanations of gender differences in educational attainment" Women on average perform better than men in education, generally women obtain more 5 A*­C grades in
GCSE and also women are performing better than men in A­level results.Girls began to increase the gap between them and boys particularly at GCSE and A Level with the only exception being physics, despite this fact; girls appear to be closing the gap for the subject year by year. It is now more common for women to attend university than men with statistics showing a 48%­38% difference. Influence of the feminist movement is an external factor which has played a great part in encouraging women to become more independent and pursuing worthwhile careers. Alison Kelly noted that the feminist movement in the 70’s and 80’s highlighted female underachievement and as a result greater emphasis was placed on the need for equality of opportunity between the genders. The influence of the feminist movement has made people, especially teachers, aware of the stereotypical nature of school and as a result resources used by teachers were monitored for gender bias in order to ensure ‘girl friendly schooling’. The monitoring of these education resources made teachers more aware of gender stereotyping and its effects on female’s achievements rates as a result. Weiner agrees with Kelly now that teachers do challenge gender stereotypes and many sexist images from learning materials have been removed to allow a more equal and stereotypical free learning environment. The removal of these bias has lead to girls seeing subjects such as technology and physics more acceptable for girls in modern society and has contributed to them continuing to study these at a further level. It has also allowed them to feel confident in these subjects and to strive to ensure they do well as a result. However the influence of the feminist movement is not the only external factor which has contributed to an increase in female educational achievement. There are also other factors at play. Media influence is another one of these external factors which has lead to a rise in female educational achievement. In the midst of the 80’s and 90’s media images created an air of positivity for young women and in a way acted as a role model in which these young women could aspire to. If we take into consideration many contemporary examples such as Julia Roberts in ‘Erin Brockavich’ which promoted female individuality and ambition this actively encourages young to aspire to greater things in life other than the typical ideology favoured by functionalists and the New Right that women belong in the home. The media has proven in the past to be a very influential factor in many aspects of life and women and young girls see these women such as Erin who are bright and attractive and in turn seek to be like that. Another contemporary example is that of the film ‘Tomb Raider’ featuring Angelina Jolie. Tomb Raider featured a heroine which highlighted female strength and independence, such images influence and encourage young girls to be creative, forward thinking and ultimately encourages them to strive for higher goals. This push has contributed to them doing so well in formal examinations. Positive socialisation is an external factor which has contributed to an increase in female educational achievement. Alongside the media and other agencies such as the family, peers and school have been involved in encouraging girls to adopt new roles and take on new challenges. Families have high expectations for their sons and daughters and so put a lot of effort into ensuring that they make the most of every educational opportunity available. It is perhaps the fact that parents are consistently harder and more concerned with girls and spend more time encouraging them that marriage is not as important as their career is why they are not only increasing their educational achievement but also opening a gap between them and boys. Peers can also be rather influential in that for many girls they can spend more time openly talking to each other discussing their problems or concerns with school whereas boys tend to put these thoughts to the back of their head as they see it as pointless worrying and opt for a more active approach to pass this time by i.e., sports. The very fact that girls openly talk about school issues etc means they are at

an advantage to boys and is why they are excelling in school. They are able to share idea’s and ask for help which boys see as ‘uncool’ and risk being bullied if they do this. The National Curriculum has also been another instigator in the rise in girl’s educational achievements.
When introduced in 1988, The National Curriculum ensured that all students were taught the same subjects regardless of their gender. This meant that girls could not avoid doing what was traditionally seen as
‘masculine’ subjects such as technology and physics. The fact that they were introduced to these subjects meant that the hidden curriculum was no longer able to work and so teachers were unable to steer towards certain subjects at GCSE level. Being introduced to these formally forbidden subjects allowed girls to improve their skills and knowledge in certain areas. This ultimately led into them excelling at these subjects and an increasing number of girls opt for these subjects not just at GCSE but at A Level also. It can be also said that school initiatives have impacted on girls doing well in school and a factor which has encouraged academic excellence from the late 80’s/90’s. There have been various anti­sexist initiatives within schools to raise teacher and student awareness. One example would include GIST (Girls into Science and Technology) another is TVEI (Technical Vocational Education Initiative) both these have played a very influential part in females not only increasing their academic success but increasing the gap between them and their boy peers. Such initiatives were influenced by both feminist movements, media and indeed helped change female attitudes regarding their abilities. Before the National Curriculum was introduced grades were all exam­based. However it was the introduction of coursework which allowed girls to achieve much higher grades. Coursework is a key, compulsory component of the overall exam grade. On average coursework tends to be around 30%­40% of the overall grade achieved by the student. Mitsos and Browne claim that coursework lends itself to female success. Females tend to be more organised, present work to a high standard, meet deadlines and take pride in the work they do compared to boys who tend to slack and not meet deadlines and if they do their work it is not always presented effectively to ensure good marks. The fact that girls do put so much time into coursework means that this will contribute to higher grades at the end of the course and ultimately them doing much better in school. However it is interesting to note how girls and boys will compare with the introduction of non­coursework based subjects brought about by the revised curriculum. It will be interesting to see if girl’s examination grades slip as a result. Change in female attitudes and priorities’ has also influenced girl’s achievement rates. Sue Sharpe claimed from her 1976 study of ‘Just Like A Girl’ that women’s priorities lay in settling down with a man and having children. However her findings in 1994 contradicted this view as she found that due to media influence women’s priorities no longer were centred around love, marriage, children and instead were geared towards education and career. Wilkinson agrees with Sue Sharpe’s findings stating that young women have experienced a ‘gender quake’ in their attitudes and expectations. They both note that this has been down to the influence of the media filtered down through the education system. Both these sociologists point out that young girls do not seek to continue at an early age with the once popular ideology of the
‘expressive’ leader as parsons suggests. While they may want to settle down and have children this is not their top priority as they feel career is more important. Such attitudes results women in striving for personal academic success and leads to them doing so well in schools in the past number of years. It can be generally said that there has been a feminisation of the labour force which has increased job opportunities available to women. This actively encourages them to strive at school and progress onto university and as a result their grades are increasing year after year due to encouragement for them to pursue the career they so desire. On the other hand the job market could also be a factor which has lead to girls outperforming boys as at present boys face a crisis of masculinity. This basically means that unemployment levels are so high for boys they face a cross roads in their life as to what they are going to do in the future. This crisis is mainly applicable to working class males. The fact that these boys face this crisis means that they stop working hard at school as they see it as pointless as their future is an uncertainty

regardless if they work. This has lead to their underachievement and allowed girls to pass excelling in almost every subject available on the curriculum.
In consideration of the points outlined I feel that women’s educational achievements rates have risen steadily year after year due to their dedication and commitment they put into their work. I feel that they will continue to surpass boy in every subject and possibly even widen the gap that already exists regardless of the fact that the curriculum has been changed with coursework being removed from many of the subject specifications. While some girls may find this difficult as they find it a useful practice I feel that majority will actually put more time and effort into exam preparation and as a result their exam grades in the end will be better than ever and will open up more doors for them in the future.

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