Individual differences in education perfmance: cultural diversity and gender issues

Friday, September 01, 2006

Differences in Educational Performance

Gender Differences

In spite of their well-documented disadvantages, girls have increasingly performed better than boys in public examinations. In 1996, in England and Wales, girls performed better than boys in all of the fifteen most popular GCSE subjects and in thirteen of the fifteen most popular A levels (Social Trends 1997). However the picture is a complex one. For example, from an analysis of the 1995 SAT results the following facts are established (Amot et al. 1998):

  • Girls get off to a better start in reading at Key Stage 1 and this trend is seen throughout Key Stages 2 and 3 and evident GCSE results. These results reflect results in other countries and it would seem that girls' superiority in language is a world-wide phenomenon.
  • Boys and girls perform similarly in maths at all key stages.
  • After making comparable starts in science, boys begin to pull ahead girls at Key Stage 2.

In summarising the above results, Amot et al. (1998, p.8) claim that:'blanket statements about girls performing better than boys or vice versa are difficult to justify; reference should always be made to a specific aspect of the curriculum.'

However In GCSE there has been a clear trend (Amot et al. 1999). A twenty year analysis reveals the following:

  • From 1975 to 1987 an equal number of boys and girls were achieving five or more A-C passes, that is, for every 100 girls attaining this level, there were between 94 and 100 boys.
  • From 1987 to 1990 there was a period of rapid change during which girls started to outperform boys in achieving the higher grades at GCSE.
  • From 1990 to 1995 a new period of stability and inequality emerged, that is, for every 100 girls achieving this level of attainment, there were between 80 and 83 boys.
  • The percentage of pupils achieving five or more A*-C grades at GCSE in 1995, according to gender, was 48% for girls and 39% for boys.
  • In 1999, 10 per cent more girls than boys achieved five or more A*-C grades at GCSE.

Ethnicity Differences

Since immigration began, mostly after the Second World War, there has ways been concern by teachers and educationalists as to why some ethnic minority groups have underachieved in the education system. Not all ethnic minorities have underachieved, notably individuals from Indian, Chinese and African backgrounds have succeeded as well as the white majority. Concern has mostly been focused on students from Pakistani, Bangladeshi and AfroCaribbean origins. A growing concern with ethnic variations in educational achievement led to the Rampton Report of 1981 and the Swann Report of 1985, which showed that there were ethnic differences in attainment.

Analysis of the 1998 GCSE results (ONS 2000) reveals that in all ethnic groups girls do as well as or outperform boys. The greatest difference in boy/girl performance was for students from the black group: 42 per cent of black girls achieved one to four GCSE passes at grades A* to C, compared to 24 per cent of black boys. A greater proportion of Indian boys and girls achieved higher grades at GCSE than any other ethnic youp. This trend continued at A levels, with 36 per cent of Indian pupils achieving two or more A levels. Only 29 per cent of white students achieved this standard.


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