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Exams for boys, exams for girls

News | Published in TES Newspaper on 18 June, 2010 | By: William Stewart

Gender-specific qualifications could be ready as soon as September next year

The UK’s largest school exam board is developing gender-specific alternatives to the GCSE, tailor-made for girls and boys, The TES has learned.

The Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) says it has already had positive feedback from schools about its plans for qualifications designed to play to perceived male and female strengths.

AQA’s new key stage 4 qualifications in English, maths and science could be available for teaching as soon as September 2011 with coursework options for girls and more traditional exams aimed at boys.

But one teaching union has warned that it is “extremely dangerous” for the board - which has the largest GCSE and A-level market share - to fall into “old sexist stereotypes”.

The news is the first indication of the huge implications of the Government’s deregulation of the school exams market.

Bill Alexander, AQA’s director of curriculum and assessment, said: “We could offer a route for boys that is very different to a route for girls.

“Girls tend to perform better with coursework while boys do better with end-of-year exams.

“So we are pursuing that in science to see if we could have an option in science where we might have a straightforward examination for boys but a possibility of having a coursework option for girls.”

Pundits have predicted that the removal of coursework from nearly all new- style GCSEs this year will end the 20-year trend of girls outperforming boys.

AQA’s idea is also a response to the IGCSEs offered by the other two big exam boards. This month the Government said state schools would be able to start teaching for O level-style IGCSEs in all subjects from September.

Mr Alexander said: “We are looking to do something different where there is a need in the market.

“The current GCSE criteria don’t allow coursework, but if we have now got flexibility and freedom to develop alternative products then that is what we will want to use our expertise to produce.”

His experience as a deputy head and then head in two all-girls secondaries in Berkshire had shown that “girls performed much better in coursework than boys did”, he said.

Mr Alexander said AQA would be “foolish not to” talk to schools and teachers about its proposed new exams in terms of gender differences.

He said the board had begun consulting schools three to fours months ago and they had told AQA to: “Take it forward, pursue it and let’s see the kind of things you would be offering.”

New style GCSEs currently being introduced have seen coursework largely replaced by controlled assessment, which sees pupils complete extended pieces of work under exam conditions.

Coursework was dropped from GCSE maths last year, immediately prompting boys to surge ahead of girls in the subject for the first time in more than a decade.

Mr Alexander said there was no question of AQA attempting to restrict schools over the qualifications they could enter boys and girls for.

“The important thing here is choice and the important issue is to leave those decisions to professionals,” he said.

John Bangs, NUT head of education said: “It is extremely dangerous to get into gender stereotyping. There are lots of boys who like the investigative element of coursework as well.

“The exams system is fragmenting with class stereotyping for vocational qualifications and now this. The mind boggles as to where it will go next.”

Government add to come new exams in terms of gender differences.

He said the board had begun consulting schools three to four months ago and they had told AQA to: “Take it forward, pursue it and let’s see the kind of things you would be offering.”

New-style GCSEs currently being introduced have seen coursework largely replaced by controlled assessment, where pupils complete extended pieces of work under exam conditions.

Coursework was dropped from GCSE maths last year, immediately prompting boys to surge ahead of girls in the subject for the first time in more than a decade.

Mr Alexander said there was no question of AQA attempting to restrict schools over the qualifications they could enter boys and girls for.

“The important thing here is choice and the important issue is to leave those decisions to professionals,” he said.

John Bangs, head of education at teaching union the NUT, said: “It is extremely dangerous to get into gender stereotyping. There are lots of boys who like the investigative element of coursework as well.”


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Comment (21)

  • Oh, goody. Another set of qualifications! Just what we needed. How will employers be able to assess them? What difference will colleges make in allowing young people to get on to A-level and other pre-university courses?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    11:50
    18 June, 2010

    sdeuchar

  • The result of such a move will be that employers' will favour the boys' results over the girls' as the general perception is that exams are harder than coursework.

    A better move would be to have coursework done exam-style, but over several lessons, with the exam results being used to moderate the coursework, to eliminate difference between institutions. They do this in Victoria, Oz, and it seems to work.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    23:24
    18 June, 2010

    pomunder

  • I welcome a dual assessment system. We have struggled for years to understand why boys did less well, and worked hard to remedy it without much joy. Why would we not accept such a straight forward answer to such a difficult issue?

    Gender differences are recognised in sport, why not academia. It's not as if the content is any different, only the method of testing.

    I have often thought this about coursework assignment I write, the way I write the brief can make all the difference to how the students perform. Same criteria, same unit, different way of constructing the assessment.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    11:40
    19 June, 2010

    spottr

  • Is it the Silly Season already?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    11:46
    19 June, 2010

    Synesthesia

  • A spokesperson said "To ensure Equality and Diversity we need to make sure everyone has a fair chance. This is why we are introducing the male and female assessments. Gay students will be able to choose either assessment and bisexual students will take 50% of each assessment". The spokesman said other changes were coming and these included:
    - 15% marks added to student's assessments if they come from certain ethnic groups
    - 10% marks deducted from student's assessments if they come from certain ethnic groups
    - 50% marks added for students with any form of learning disability
    - Struggling students to be given exam papers the previous day to give them a fair chance

    The spokesman added "we are sure this is a fair system that will treats everyone equally and employers can have complete faith in this bold new initiative".

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    22:29
    19 June, 2010

    MrJob

  • I think that whatever exams are made available, they need to result in a level playing field. Basically, exams need to be fair and test what they claim to test

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    5:57
    20 June, 2010

    sohaib1964

  • I think this is an excellent idea. Exams in nail varnishing and midriff-exposing for the girls and an qualification in underage drinking and graffiti for the lads. Just what every employer needs!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    7:15
    20 June, 2010

    the hippo

  • And what about any girls who prefer the no coursework option? Will they be allowed access to these other types of qualification, or will they be barred? The report talks about boys who may prefer coursework, but seems to have forgotten that some girls may prefer exams. The extreme sexism of this idea is ridiculous! It implies that the way a mind works is based solely on gender. Now I know there are more boys than girls that go into fields such as physics and maths, but, speaking from first-hand experience here, that doesn't mean that the girls who do so think in a completely different way. How discrimated against would you feel, as a boy or girl, to be told you should take a different type of qualification to everyone else in the class?! How would it even work as a teaching method - separate classes based on gender?!

    I agree with pomunder - employers and universities will prefer the "boys" qualification as the exams will be perceived to be harder.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    17:04
    21 June, 2010

    PinkHelen

  • As a girl who took and passed maths and 4 sciences at O' Level this is probably the most idiotic idea I've heard in a long time and that's saying something! PinkHelen is right, it is sexist and ridiculous.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    22:35
    21 June, 2010

    firebird2110

  • I think it is a good idea. We CAN make it fair by giving a choice to both girls and boys (or parents) to register for the type of end of course assessment or we could split them into groups based on previous performance to try out the different method of assessment if that helps them learn better. After all is it not the purpose of education and training to prepare people for certain jobs at the end of the (day)? Then we could have employers and universities having a choice between differently assessed individuals. But to reserve ceratin types of assessments or jobs exclusively for males and females is definitely not fair.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    0:40
    22 June, 2010

    ahmedzaman

  • I thought long and hard about this..... has the UK moved the date of April the 1st?
    Mind you, a look at the qualifications system in NZ can tell you something many of us already suspect - the world has gone mad!!!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    6:37
    22 June, 2010

    Fugazi

  • This is sexism in the extreme. The fact that the system needs to change to remedy the fact that girls outdo boys is ridiculous. There is no such thing as coursework in Ireland, everything is assessed by the Leaving Cert exams - and girls still do better than their male counterparts.

    I am willing to bet any amount of money that if boys did better than girls in examinations, no one would ever question it, or dare "remedy" it. It would simply be accepted that boys must be more academic than girls.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    14:11
    22 June, 2010

    Zetera

  • This is absolutely ridiculous. I got into an all girls school on the basis that I can pass exams and I have faced nothing but gender stereotyping ever since. Every subject that you could have opted for had an element of coursework chosen by the school, which was absolute hell in addition to the copius amounts of homework required to succeed in the exams. We were also told that we couldn't take the multiple choice papers on the basis that girls 'aren't risk takers'. Absolutely disgusting and always trying to find excuses for underacheivement and accommodating these rather than tackling the real problems in our education system.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    15:51
    22 June, 2010

    c05cc1

  • So all girls are just alike and all boys are identical! This approach is not recognising difference, this approach is stereotyping and demeaning.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    22:13
    22 June, 2010

    Lulubagetel

  • How absolutely ridiculous. Anyone who has taught boys and girls will surely realise that the variation within each sex is greater than the variation between the sexes. By variation, I mean variation in preferred style of learning/most suitable form of assesment/academic strengths etc.

    Also, universities and employers don't need a more complicated qualifications system.

    And who says girls like coursework? I'm a girl and I hate it! And so do the girls I teach.....

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    6:15
    23 June, 2010

    ladybird222

  • I love the fact that

    "His experience as a deputy head and then head in two all-girls secondaries in Berkshire had shown that “girls performed much better in coursework than boys did”

    Hang on if he worked in all girls school than how does he claim to knnow about the differences in the ways BOYS learn ?!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    14:41
    23 June, 2010

    Maths_Mike

  • I have always worked in mixed sex schools. Yes sometimes boys can be a bit lazy but so can girls and I had problems geting work form pupils of both genders. The most exceptional coursework i saw was from BOYS. girls might have produced a lot more on average but that did not make it any better quality.



    My biggest fear of all with the return of any kind of coursework is the blatent cheating (due often to management pressure) taht goes on in the form of the amount of "help" given to the students. A poor mark in coursework is simply not allowed (regardless of the ability of the child).

    Before reintroducing any kind of coursework I urge AQA to look at the average grade that students (of either gender_ acheived on their coursework compared to what they got on their exams.

    then hopefully they will abandon this ridiculous plan.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    14:50
    23 June, 2010

    Maths_Mike

  • Ridiculous to have separate assessment systems. I''m a girl, did O levels, changed secondary schools about 5 times due to my nomadic parents, and would have been seriously disadvantaged come O level time had I had to do coursework.

    As I posted elsewhere, in the corporate world, the higher up the tree you get, the more you are expected to show the ability to work under pressure, do intensive spurts of work - turning out presentations, urgent reports, assimilating information and the like - for which 'performing on the day' is what counts.

    Coursework trains people for the more plodding admin and clerical functions lower down the corporate tree and doesn't give them the experience of HAVING to perform well regardless of how they feel that they would need if they wanted to get on in careers in the commonly-accepted understanding of that.

    As others have also said - the exams route will be given greater weighting than the coursework route.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    23:26
    23 June, 2010

    AshgarMary

  • This is just another example of trying to pull everyone down to make them the same level, rather than pushing those who are capable to succeed at high levels, girl or boy.

    It goes back to the banning of sports days in case someone looses, God forbid someone is more intelligent that someone else. Then they get out into the real world and realise not everything is given to them in the way that might be best for them. They may as well all be given A* grades and get rid of the idea of hard work altogether.

    "Romeo, Romeo, wherfore art thou not abridged for the less able?" Fran Hill

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    10:12
    24 June, 2010

    Miss Crilly

  • I'm sorry, but in my experience, the biggest difficulty that affects boys in schools is a lack of rigour that has started with a lack of male teachers in primary school. When I was training, I kept hearing women intending to join the primary teaching course because, "I know about children because I've had one/two/three of my own." These women then deal with boys and girls in a different manner - and it is extending now to the secondary system with the increasing numbers of female teachers. "Cheeky boys" are tolerated, because "Boys will be boys" whilst similar attitudes from girls are seen as disruptive.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    23:29
    24 June, 2010

    brambo

  • Horrifying!! I struggled with coursework immensely during my education and much preferred exams. Coursework was the thing that dragged me down. I am sure that , despite being a GIRL, I am not alone. If I had been forced through a route like this proposal, I would have failed!! From my teaching experience it is down to the individual, some are better at exams, some prefer coursework - it has little to do with gender and more to do with how people prefer to learn and that is what should be focussed on.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    10:18
    26 June, 2010

    binzels

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