The Truth about Our 'Feminised' Society ; EDITORIAL & OPINION
Orr, Deborah, The Independent (London, England)
It's a theory that speaks loudly to lovers of common sense. The feminisation of schools has driven the widening gap in attainment between girls and boys. There are far too many female teachers in our educational establishments, and under their tutelage, boys suffer, so much that for years now their GCSE achievement has lagged behind that of girls by 10 per cent. More girls get better A-levels too, and more girls go to university. A good number of those, presumably, eventually become teachers. And on it goes.
It's certainly true that teaching is dominated by women. In some parts of the country that domination is extremely marked. Recent figures from Reading confirm that there are 478 women teachers and 38 male teachers in the area. That is extreme, and - incidentally - in line with a countrywide trend in which poorer areas with lower costs of living attract more male teachers, and richer commuter areas like Reading attract fewer. (It would be interesting to see if boys do better in poorer areas, but as far as I know no research has been done on this, and my hunch is anyway that the opposite is true.)
Nevertheless, the discrepancy overall is entirely unarguable. Only 14 per cent of primary teachers are male, and across all state schools only a quarter of teachers are men. Over the last generation, the proportion of male secondary teachers has gone down from 55 per cent to 41 per cent, and many of these are concentrated in the private sector, where pay is higher.
Lots of people subscribe to the view that all this is damaging the educational prospects of boys, the Conservative higher education spokesman, Boris Johnson, being just one of many. Lots of people don't stop there, but point to the particularly marked and particularly vexing underachievement of black boys as being specifically about the lack of black male teachers. Hackney MP Diane Abbott subscribes to this view. So does Trevor Phillips, head of the Commission for Racial Equality.
You have to go to the US to find any more general evidence about gender and teaching though, and specifically to a study by Stanford University of 25,000 pupils which found that girls benefit from being taught by women and boys benefit by being taught by men. The research, however, is mainly anecdotal, with its most useful findings being that when a woman is in charge of a class, boys are more likely to be seen as disruptive, and that when a man is in charge of a class girls are more likely to report that they do not look forward to a subject.
Yet, there is plenty of other research that contradicts this view. A 1998 study by Durham University of 8,978 boys and girls in 413 classes in English primary schools found no difference in attainment between pupils taught by men and women, beyond the possibly significant fact that children taught by female teachers had "a more positive attitude".
And this is not a pattern that is seen only in Britain. Female teachers are prevalent across the developed world, as is, broadly speaking, the gap between the results achieved by boys and girls. The idea that this is linked to gender issues in teaching has been debated for many years not just here, but also in Australia, Canada, Finland and the US. Yet a review of the available international data by Buckingham University again found that there did not seem to be any significant correlation …
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Publication information: Article title: The Truth about Our 'Feminised' Society ; EDITORIAL & OPINION. Contributors: Orr, Deborah - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: March 21, 2007. Page number: 43. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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