Exploring the reasons for gender differences in GCSE exam results
- To investigate the gender differences in GCSE results
- To investigate possible reasons for the differences between gender and success at GCSE
I have chosen to study this particular topic because I would personally like to know why there is a discrepancy in GCSE results, depending on gender. Throughout history there have been debates on the equality of the two sexes and this is an aspect that defies all policies. I would like to know why there is inequality on this facet of society. On a more personal level I would like to know of any possibility of my educational attainment being affected by gender.
In regards to Sociology, I am studying this area because I want to find out the sociological explanations for the discrepancy in exam results. There are various sociological concepts that relate to this issue, and they could provide possible reasons for these differences.
This investigation evidently requires research, so I will be submitting a questionnaire to teachers in order to find out their opinions regarding this issue. It will also provide me the grounds to explore possible links between gender and educational success in their experience. This would be my primary research.
My secondary piece of research would be to look at existing exam results from previous years and seek the more successful gender.
I predict that the more successful gender would be the girls. I intend to test this predication and also find out why, during the course of this investigation. I would also look at sociologists’ research on this topic and relate my findings to these theories.
Some of the key concepts in my work are:
- Socialisation- Boys and Girls are socialised differently and have different upbringings. This may be a contributing factor to a discrepancy in results.
- ‘Nature or nurture?’- Are boys and girls destined to achieve the way they do because of their gender? Or are they brought up in a way that secures their fate? Determine if the cause is biological or environmental.
- Peer pressure- Peer group pressure could be another contributing factor to this consequence as young people in particular tend to follow the same trends as their friends and the people around them. Boys could be pressured into underachieving because they want to join the crowd and follow their friends. Those boys that are naturally clever, that have the potential to achieve, choose not to achieve because they choose to follow their friends. Their submission to peer pressure could be an underlying source to this issue.
- Labelling- teachers sometimes, perhaps unknowingly, label students into certain categories depending on their gender. For example, boys can be labelled as underachievers and unintelligent. This could lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy; if a teacher labels a student with a negative attribute the student is likely to feel discouraged to work hard, therefore fulfilling the prophecy. This could also work vice versa; the teacher could label a girl as being a successful achiever and by doing so, push her towards this goal. She would feel determined as a result of this support and fulfil her prophecy by succeeding.
This is a preview of the whole essay
I aim to relate my findings to the work of sociologists who have carried out research on this matter such as Jerry A. Jacobs who believed that females disadvantaged from education as they achieved less than males. Dr. Irwing and Professor Richard Lynn believed that the cause of the gender differences in educational attainment was due to biological causes. Linda Croxford and Teresa Tinklin stated that the cause for the disparity is peer pressure. Patrick McDaid carried out further research and declared that the cause was due to the way in which the students are taught as girls are auditory learners whereas boys are visual-kinaesthetic learners.
In order to fulfil my aims for this coursework, I must obtain primary data for use in the investigation. From the various methods available, I choose to obtain this data by conducting a survey, in the form of a questionnaire. The intention of this data is to fulfil my second aim.
I intend to create two questionnaires, one for teachers and one for the students. By doing this I have sufficient grounds to make an unbiased judgement, due to the fact that I have heard opinions from both sides. I have chosen to distribute 20 questionnaires in total for the teachers and 40 for the students.
Some of the weaknesses of this method are that the participants will not be given a lot of freedom to express their opinions, as they would be able to, as in an interview perhaps. The questions will have a limited range of answers, some of which may be stereotypical, for example “Girls will achieve higher results than boys because they are naturally clever.” This assumption implies that all girls are naturally clever, hence applying a stereotype that may not necessarily be true.
The advantage of using this method is that it is easier to analyse because there is only a limited choice of answers, not allowing huge variation which can be difficult to depict at the analysis change. Furthermore, I am able to spot trends more easily and pick out patterns relevant to my aims.
I intend to use closed questions because the answers can only be interpreted in one way. If it was an open question, it can be difficult to define the opinion expressed, and different interpretations can cause variation. This can cause an issue of liability in the investigation.
These methods will involve submitting the questionnaires to random people from within the sample frame. For example, random teachers for the questionnaire intended for teachers, balancing the gender proportion via 10 female and 10 male teachers. However, the student questionnaire sampling process is slightly more stratified. From within the student sampling frame, 20 will be for year 11 students and 20 for A-level students either in Year 12 or Year 13. From the 40 in total, 20 shall be for females and 20 for males to keep the gender representation equal. This means 10 from each group, GCSE and A-level. This will ensure that the results are unbiased.
I have chosen not to include any student in Year 10 within the sample frame because I personally believe that students studying in Year 10 are too early in the course and may not realise the implications their gender may have, or even fully comprehend the issue. Therefore I have closed the sample frame to Year 11, 12, and 13.
During the course of this, I may encounter some ethical issues. For example, it is unlikely that a member of the male gender will discredit his own gender, and may lie effectively in order to justify himself. He may not want to admit the reasons behind failure and back up unjustified excuses. This could also happen vice versa.
This indicates the sensitivity of the issue and implies that it should be approached with caution. I should also avoid being too overt or stereotypical as this may create a biased result or sexual prejudice. I should word my questions carefully, not to offend anyone.
I will design and submit a pilot study, as a prototype of my data collection tool based on the information I require, hence creating a question for each aspect.
In addition to the primary data, I must also find secondary data. I intend to find information showing the performance of each gender at GCSE level. I will find this using the internet. The intention of this data is to establish the differences between the two sexes achievement.
I must also research existing sociologists’ theories about gender related educational attainment that explains the differences. I will compare this to my findings to prove or disprove the theories.
Content and analysis
The secondary data is presented below showing the GCSE grades attained by each gender.
The above data was obtained for under June 2006 from a PDF document.
The information shows significant inequality from all aspects. Girls achieved more A*-C grades in English than boys. However in maths, the discrepancy was not as apparent as it was in English. The results were close, but girls still achieved slightly more than the boys. Although girls did achieve more A* grades than boys, the following grades were very close, showing no real trend or pattern. This shows that the strengths for this subject are spread equally between the two genders.
The final topic (all subjects) is the easiest to analyse as it shows a clear pattern. Girls achieve more A* to C grades than boys leaving boys to achieve more D to U grades. This shows a substantial difference, demonstrating the gender inequality.
This graph was acquired from the Guardian website. It shows the difference in boys and girls attainment.
The graph shows the difference in achievement, and also depicts the trend in educational attainment. Despite improvements from both sexes every year, the gap remaions comparatively equal, showing no sign of closing. The pattern remains the same; girls outperforming boys.
I have researched the following theories on the internet designed by sociologists previously and compared them to my findings to locate relations and similarities.
Jerry A. Jacobs from the department of Sociology, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania researched the attainments of both sexes and came to the conclusion that females achieved less than males. Jacobs acknowledged that gender inequality is more pronounced in some aspects of the educational systems than in others. He also declared that “females fared relatively well in the area of access, less well in terms of the school experience, and were particularly disadvantaged with respect to the outcomes of schooling.” Jacobs concluded that females attained parity in some aspects of education as well as those in which they “continue to lag behind males”. In relation to my findings, girls generally outperformed boys in GCSE exams which mark the end of compulsory education. This directly contradicts the assumption that females fall behind males in achievement as Jacobs had depicted. Jacobs’s findings led to a rather ambiguous conclusion which portrayed the female gender as outperforming boys and also falling behind them. Due to this I have been unable to prove or disprove the theory directly.
On the other hand, Dr. Paul Irwing and Professor Richard Lynn identified the cause of the gender differences as being biological. They carried out a study that proved that gender difference in intelligence was due to genetic causes. They stated that this explained the fact that men acquired higher status positions in life, won more prizes and achieved greater success. This judgment was based on the comparisons of IQ tests by both sexes. Although this is not directly similar to the investigation I conducted, as I investigated GCSE results, they are similar in the sense that they are both methods of testing intelligence. According to my survey, the students agreed the single most important cause was nurture and the teachers believed that it was influence of role models, both of which are non-biological. My research directly opposes Irwing’s and Lynn’s theory. I personally do not believe the theory that boys and girls are destined to achieve a certain way because of their gender implying a biological cause, and the results from my survey support this conclusion to a certain extent.
Another study that I researched was conducted by Linda Croxford and Teresa Tinklin who found peer pressure to be the cause. This theory corresponds well with my research; I found that 77.5% of students agreed that peer pressure is a contributing factor to the difference in achievement.
And finally, the last theory I discovered was carried out by Patrick McDaid. Based on his research he concluded that the difference in achievement was caused by the method in which the students are taught. He discovered that girls are auditory learners whereas boys are visual-kinesthetic learners. This causes problems during lessons when boys are being taught by the teacher in auditory form and also at examinations. Basically this is a biological cause. During my research I found that some students and teachers believed that differences were caused by biological causes.
The secondary data helped me to accomplish my first aim. The data from the questionnaire provided me with the ground to make judgements on the issue of gender related attainment at GCSE. It helped me to fulfil my second aim, I now realise that there are various reasons behind the gender difference in educational attainment, the most common being: influence of role models, peer pressure, different attitudes, and upbringing. I have realised that there is a huge variety of possibilities some have not been mentioned such as the following for example:
- Boys do not perform as well in examinations as girls do
- Boys do better at practical than academic
- Intellectual gap
- Boys have not matured/developed as well as girls