THE REAL GENDER GAP SCANDAL; Forget feminism.The True Victims of Discrimination Today Are Boys, Who Under-Perform at Every Level of Education. Here, the Furious Mother of a Son Asks Why No One Will Speak out on This Deeply Disturbing Development

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Byline: by Winifred Robinson

AS ONE of six daughters growing up in the Seventies, girls were so little prized compared with boys that a friend of my father even expressed his sympathy rather than congratulations when my youngest sister, a perfectly healthy child, was born.

Can you imagine that happening now? I rather doubt it. In an almost complete reversal of attitudes, today's parents long for girls.

As the mother of an only child, a son, I do not think I am exaggerating in saying that I detected something akin to sympathy when we announced that we had a boy. People may be more tactful these days, but there were expressions of regret that we would not be able to buy 'all those pretty pink baby clothes', and at least one close relative who sighed: 'I always thought you'd have a girl.' At the heart of this new preference lies the fact that all parents want their children to succeed in life - and quite simply, in today's Britain, girls are more likely so to do.

Building on a trend that began more than a decade ago, girls are outperforming boys at every level in education. They get more and better GCSEs and A-levels, win more places at top universities and gain better degrees.

Although poor attainment is concentrated in the lower income groups, the gender gap persists to the detriment of boys across all social classes and ethnic groups. And as this week's dismal primary school test results reveal, boys are sinking farther and farther behind.

A depressing 40 per cent of boys will begin sec-ondarschool unable to write fluently and correctly, compared with 25 per cent of girls. How can this be happening? It is to our shame that the reasons for boys' underachievement are so well researched and documented that they are no longer regarded as controversial, even among the education establishment. And yet still the reasons persist.

Boys' educational achievement began to lag behind girls from the late Eighties - around the time GCSEs replaced O-levels. There were warnings that the new qualification, with its emphasis on course work rather than final exams, would favour girls - and so it has proved.

Teenage girls tend to be more conscientious and dedicated to longterm projects, while boys are better at cramming and thrive in the adrenaline-fuelled arena of the exam.

If any doubt remained, it was cast aside in a study published in June by the prestigious Higher Education Policy Institute. It cited the GCSE as the 'most likely cause' of the gender equality gap in higher education.

The report cites the style of teaching, content and questions at GCSE, which trigger an educational disadvantage among boys compared to girls, which lingers through to A-levels and beyond.

Those results have an inevitable impact on further education. Girls have all but reached the government target of 50 per cent going on from school to study for a degree, while boys are way behind at 38 per cent.

Answering counter-claims that the introduction of GCSE and the continued relatively poor performance of boys is just a coincidence, the study points out that in research by the Organisation For Economic Co-operation And Development, where more than 13,000 15-year-olds sat what might be termed 'traditional' tests, girls scored better in reading, while boys achieved more correct answers in maths and science.

When the same pupils sat GCSEs, however, the girls did better in all subjects.

'I think GCSEs look as if they are to blame,' argued the institute's director, Bahram Bekhradnia. 'And if there is a suggestion that the nature of GCSEs is putting boys at a disadvantage and meaning that they do less well in school, then that needs to be dealt with, because these kids are missing out.'

But it has not been dealt with, and neither has the other crucial factor which helps convince many boys - long before GCSEs loom - that study is not for them. …