ResearchEd 5: Becky Francis

Becky is talking about gender gaps and closing them: what doesn’t work and what might.

The current picture: the media reports that girls stretched the gap even further. The language, though, presents it as a competition, and a crisis. Becky reminds us that the research and focus in the 1980s, the research was focused on girls and improving their attainment. Although, surprisingly, not much has changed about this, girls have closed the uptake gap in maths and science. On the flip side, boys had not closed the gap in language and literacy.

Becky shares he gender gap which is around 10%, compared to 26% for FSM. so perhaps we should not talk about the girls and the boys, but think about which girls and which boys. She provides more evidence to illustrate that the biggest issue is in literacy.

The main explanations are: the feminization of schooling – boys should have more male teacher role models, a less feminised curriculum; essential differences between boys and girls; and the social construction of masculinity and femininity – expectations and societal messages transmitting the idea that gender is the key pillar of identity. There’s a lot of evidence around the final one, though less proving the others, and it is dangerous for us to apply strategies based on them in the classroom.

Becky takes us through some gender myths, including the importance of teacher gender. She thinks literacy is the key here and suggests some boy friendly strategies.

Reading boxes. Some schools have different book boxes for boys and girls to encourage reading – more non-fiction for boys, for example. This tells the pupils that reading is gendered, at boys aren’t reading, what teachers think is appropriate for them – princesses for girls etc – and this is all due to a method used without evidence.

The stats backing up a preference for non-fiction are a bit ropey. Many boys opt to read non-fiction because the pictures helped the strugglers to appear more literate. There’s no empirical evidence for learning styles, and gendered learning styles are even more problematic. We do know that there are preferences for learning styles – group work for girls, individual for boys, to generalise – but there is a danger of overplaying to this.

Short term and individual strategies don’t work here – we need a more holistic approach. Schools where gender constructions are less accentuated are the schools where boys do better. There needs to be a whole school approach tackling gender stereotypes, with high expectations of all, teaching strategies to encourage reflection on gender constructions.

She recommends, among others, Gender and Education: Mythbusters from the DCSF.

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