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Cause of Gender Differences in Educational Achievement

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Assess the claim that gender differences in educational achievement are primarily the ‘result of changes in wider society’.

Gender differences in achievement can be explained best by changes that have occurred in factors outside of school, known as external factors. A DfES (2007) bar chart showed that throughout the years (1985 – 2007), there has been a higher percentage of females that achieved five or more A*-C grades at GCSE. The percentage has been constantly increasing at a faster rate than the male percentage.

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This proves that changes in wider society have affected both genders differently, but girl’s achievement has benefited from this more.

The more rapid improvement in girl’s results can be explained best by one of the major factors, the impact of feminism. Since the 1960’s, the feminist movement has completely changed the typical stereotype of women from being a housewife and mother to also being the breadwinner role of the house with their husband. Despite the feminist movement saying that we have not yet reached full equality between the two sexes, woman’s rights have been substantially improved.

So finally women feel they have more self-esteem and their expectations have been raised. The media has also been changing because of feminism. Angela McRobbie (1994) compared magazines from the 1970’s to those in today’s market. Before, the message portrayed in ‘Jackie’ (for example) was that it was important for women to get married so that they are not “left on the shelf”, but now women are pictured as assertive and independent people. TV programmes, such as soap operas have also been highlighting the importance for women to have self-esteem and personal choice.

There have been some major changes in the typical family structure since the 1970’s. The divorce rate has increased, cohabitation has gone up, the number of first marriages has decreased, the number of lone-parent families (the parent mainly being female) and there are also more smaller families. These changes have been affecting girl’s attitudes towards education. One example of this is the number of female-headed lone-parent families may cause girls to take on a breadwinner role and at the same time a new adult role model for girls is created. They are seeing their mothers be the strong yet caring figure of the family which inspires them to grow up to be just like this, which has a snowball affect on future generations. In order for women to be the financially independent mothers, they need to have well-paid jobs which requires good qualifications, showing and encouraging their daughters that they need to work hard to do well.

Another positive that the increase in the divorce rate has is that women cannot depend on their husband to be the only main provider. However, this increase can also affect boys in a negative way. They no longer have a permanent male role model to look up to, which affects their school life by them not knowing what jobs a man typically has so they may not choose the correct subjects needed for the stereotypical male jobs or they won’t know how ‘real men’ act so they may be made fun of by their peers if they happen to be surrounded by females at home.

There have also been important changes in the world of women’s employment. Before there were improvements in this, things were very unfair and men were the superior gender. The British Women’s Suffragette Movement was an organisation wanting women to have the ability to vote and have the same working rights as men. The group was formed in 1903 and led by Emmeline Pankhurst. Although this group was middle class, it heckled politicians, held marches, members chained themselves to railings, attacked policemen, broke windows, slashed paintings, set fire to buildings, threw bombs and went on hunger strike when they were sent to prison. One suffragette, Emily Davison, ran out in front of the king’s horse during the Derby of 1913 and was killed. Finally people started to listen to this group of women and because of them we, as women, are where we are today. The First World War was the first opportunity for women to take on the traditional ‘male jobs’. So today both men and women have the same working rights. This force of women is a good example of girls in education now wanting to work hard so they can get good, well paid jobs just like boys can. Girls have been encouraged to see their future in terms of having paid work, rather than just housewives with no part-time job on the side. However, there are obvious examples of men still having an authority over women.

Most head teachers of schools today are male and the actual subject/year teachers tend to be female with less male teachers. An Equal Pay Act was introduced in 1970 making it illegal to pay women less than men and in 1975 the Sex Discrimination Act was introduced in 1975, which outlaws sex discrimination in the world of work. Since 1975, the pay gap has decreased from 30% to only 17%, but there is still a gap. There has also been an increase in the percentage of women in employment from 47%, in 1959, to over 70% in 2007. Due to women being mothers, the growth of the service sector and flexible part-time jobs has opened up plenty of opportunities for women to work. Yet traditional men’s jobs have declined. Margaret Prosser says that “in the last 30 years since the Equal Pay Act there have been many changes in women’s economic participation and achievement… and accessing training and jobs which previous generations would not have considered open to women.”

The fact that there have been changes in the family and employment means that girls’ are changing their goals and ambitions about what they want to do with their future. This is supported by sociological research. For example, Sue Sharpe (1994) compared the interviews she had from different girls from the 1970’s and the 1990’s. She found that the way girls see themselves from the 1990’s has had a major change since the 1970’s. These girls just accepted that they were going to be housewives or not have a very good job. In those days girl’s had low aspirations and felt that success in their education was unfeminine. They felt that if they appeared to be determined and intellectual, they would be seen as unattractive. Their priorities in life were love, marriage, husbands, children, jobs and careers, in roughly that order. But the girl’s interviewed in the 90’s had different ambitions, with careers and supporting themselves coming first before everything else. Sharpe found that girls nowadays are more likely to see themselves as independent women with their own career instead of being dependent on their husband. Becky Francis (2001) also found that when she asked girls what their career goals were, most had high aspirations and only a few saw that they wanted to be working in a traditional female career. These aspirations need educational qualifications. Girls of the 1970’s did not have this.

In conclusion, gender differences in educational achievement are mainly due to changes in wider society such as feminisation, which has allowed girls to achieve more, even better than boys, than ever before. They now have clear ambitions for their careers in the future and are going against the stereotypical female jobs. The man reason for boys’ underachievement is a lack of male role models, which means that they form anti-school subcultures.

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