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 Post subject: The A Level Gender Gap
PostPosted: Mon Aug 19, 2013 7:11 am 
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Location: Herts
80% of all Physics A levels are taken by boys, 75% of all English A levels are taken by girls and 66% of all Maths A levels are taken by boys. The top GCSE Maths set at my dd's school is 10 girls and 20 boys. Apparently every year this all gets worse and not better. I am doing my bit to resolve the English issue as I have twice as many boys as girls in my classes but I am interested to hear what, if anything, schools are actually doing about this? DG


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 19, 2013 7:18 am 
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The opposite of what is needed perhaps? I thought that years ago girls did better at primary maths too? Now this seems not to be the case. My primary does an excellent job from reception onwards at picking out some boys and making out they are brilliant at maths ( because they are marginally faster and louder at shouting out answers to some simple addition sums) and making girls feel that good mathematicians are boys from very early on.

The girls are praised inordinately for neat handwriting and very twee stories from reception onwards.

It works a treat in producing the a level results you observe. Now add to this a new fashion in assessment at age 11 where an expansive vocabulary is believed to be a better measure of intelligence than numerical and non verbal reasoning.

The future is girls, but unfortunate science and maths free girls. Good job some areas have boys grammar schools otherwise it might ultimately only be a handful of boys ( who have defied the brilliant at maths, poor at English brainwashing) that get into English grammar schools.


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 19, 2013 7:36 am 
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Mystery, this is so perceptive. I just ran a week full of daily classes and the person that all the other students thought was the best at Maths was the boy X that kept shouting out the answers even though I had repeatedly asked for hands up. The best student was actually a girl at the back who marked her answers quietly and did not participate in identifying the correct answers. X has obviously been told all the way through primary school he is the best. At the start of the week other students were describing themselves as less clever than X. By the end of the week this was clearly not the case. I would imagine that many students in X's primary school have been taught to believe X is the best especially the girls. X started the week finding English a real struggle but finished it doing really well. He applied himself because he was surrounded by boys who were also trying hard and because he now knows that being good at Maths is not enough to get into any of the selective schools in our area. My dd's have always been surrounded by girls who openly boast about being hopeless at Maths and they seem to be able to get away with this and the same for boys with English. It is a shame that selective schools are removing their English exams or did not have one in the first place. The Watford exam is Maths and VR only so you can gain a place without being tested in English. I was very encouraged when QE boys upped the ante in English and made it 50% of the required mark, not 25%. Maybe we will see some more boys coming out of QE boys with English A levels in 7 years time. DG


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 19, 2013 9:16 am 
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Probably a controversial answer, but this is one of the reasons I agree with, and chose, single gender schools for my older DC's. At DD's sixth form last year more girls took A level maths than English.
Whereas when I was at a mixed sixth form many years ago taking maths with mechanics, biology , chemistry and physics, I was the only girl in my maths and physics sets. Not ideal even for the tomboy that I was then. :(


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 19, 2013 9:36 am 
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Yes, I suspect what you saw has its roots in many primary classrooms and homes across the land.

The method of assessment a school uses to select its entrants at age 11 could be allowed to be quite a strong determinant of subject choice at A level. I wonder though if it is this "fixed".

I get the feeling this area of thinking about assessment choices at age 11 is based on perceptions rather than hard data.

In the same way that those boys worked hard at their English on your course because they knew they were relatively weaker at it on arrival, grammar schools that are presented with an intake higher on non verbal than verbal skills could work extra hard in that department. When you consider that the vast majority of school based subjects require reading and writing there is huge scope in the overwhelming majority of lessons to improve language skills.

Sometimes I think some selective schools are being a bit lazy in letting what they perceive to be the innate aptitudes of their intake overly influence their final products. All children who get through these selective exams can read. It shouldn't be beyond the skills of good teachers to get a good proportion of them fired up about literature. At age 11 there is still a lot of scope for change in both interests and "aptitude".


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 19, 2013 10:24 am 
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Indeed! The parents are astounded to see such a dramatic, sudden change in their boys but I am not. I have seen it happen in front of me for over a year now. It does really help to have lots of them together as they spur each other on, if there are too many girls the boys tend to sink into the background. It certainly is an argument for single sex schools. DG


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 19, 2013 1:04 pm 
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Location: Reading
The issues are far deeper than schools and choosing A levels. You only have to go into the toy sections of shops etc to see toys being split by gender. Science toys are 'boys' toys.
The most ridiculous example of this was a picture I saw taken in an Entertainer shop. All the science toys were together under Boys' toys, including The Perfumery Spa one. It doesn't really help inspire girls to take up science. The other side of course is that creative stuff and arty stuff tend to be placed in the girls' toys section.

I am a STEM ambassador and spend a bit of time going into schools etc for careers fair, talking to students about careers in STEM in general and engineering in particular. Sometimes I get quite disheartened by some comments I get from some of the girls I talk to.

I was quite anti single gender schools for my DD a few years ago, but in the last few years realised that, for my DD anyway, it will probably suit her better. Wouldn't have suited me, and I did A levels in Maths, further maths, physics and chemistry. However I always did get on better with the boys.


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 19, 2013 1:29 pm 
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In our primary at least speed & accuracy in arithmetic is often seen to be a marker of very high ability. Children are presented with sheets every now and again (largely times table questions and simple addition & subtraction) and encouraged to complete them as quickly as possible, setting happens from Y3 and many of the children in the top set have done Kumon for a few years by then. I don't think this is a coincidence. If you have a child who understands the concepts but works slowly they are not generally judged to be as able as they might be, especially early on. This can all lead to a self fulfilling prophecy. Promotion through the sets happens when a child can work that much faster, and more accurately, than others. It's all about speed it seems to me anyway.

Primary teachers have told me they can tell that some children (girls usually) are simply 'writers' and not as quick as others at Maths. There's a feeling number sense is innate and you can tell usually quite early who possess it and who does not and there isn't a thing that can be done about it.

I remember doing an early pick up once when a capacity lesson was going on. I think it was a Y2 lesson. The teacher asked if the jug had 250ml of water in it and another 50ml was added who much would be there altogether, the top group knew instantly, absolutely instantly 6 hands went up. It was automatic. Then the teacher explained later on to me that that's how it was, the most able knew without having to be taught at all...Perhaps that is 'how it is'?


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 19, 2013 2:16 pm 
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That is just absolute rubbish! Tabula rasa, blank slate, you are not born knowing things. They knew because they have been singled out and taught to a higher level than the other students. DG


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 19, 2013 2:56 pm 
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But teachers don't see it like that IME, some children are more able and quicker at grasping things (?)


I am torn on it to be honest. It's difficult to inculcate a sense of logic in a child that seems to lack one (as regards Maths) but you can give a child guidelines on how to improve composition (use adverbs, high level punctuation, good adjectives etc) & develop inference skills in comprehension through careful reading and practice will tend to make perfect?


Last edited by Cranleigh on Mon Aug 19, 2013 3:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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