Thursday, August 27, 2009

And the winner is...

As reported here boys this year overtook girls in maths GCSE. Why? Because of the eradication of the coursework and it being purely assessed now by exams; which, we are told, boys do better at. We are told "Coursework will be scrapped from nearly all GCSEs next year". I'm sorry but should we be rejoicing at this removal of coursework in future GCSEs because it means boys can statistically get ahead?

In The Guardian write-up, Mary Bousted (general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers) is quoted as saying:

The problem has been that in the 1960s and 1970s boys were getting 12-13% more O-level passes than girls and no one really talked about it. When girls started to do better there were Panorama programmes and inquiries and a national debate. There's a national panic if girls and women start to be successful. Girls have been more successful at GCSE and A-levels but that hasn't closed the gender pay gap. Even if they do better they don't get paid as much.

This is exactly the points I have stressed again and again in any writing on the gender gap in education - firstly this completely unjustified panic over girls 'doing better' than the boys and secondly the fact that despite what the qualification statistics show, better attainment at GCSE/A-Level does not equate with the better pay. Why can't female students be seen as 'doing better'? And why this stress on the "gender gap"? What about differences according to ethnicity or socio-economic background? Because I'm sure as hell that it's not every girl 'doing better' - what about those who aren't?

Teacher training courses emphasis the importance of differentiation and using a variety of techniques for learning and assessment in our lessons because no-one learns the same. We are told that coursework is becoming a problem because of plagiarism but then is that really a reason to remove what is potentially an effective assessment method for a large number of female students (if indeed we take the slightly deterministic argument that coursework benefits girls, exams boys)? Isn't reliance of assessment through exams not differentiating?

A side thought (not properly investigated or backed): I think it's telling that coursework is being removed at the educational stages where firstly girls are 'doing better' and secondly where girls and boys are present in proportional figures to the population when, for instance, no-one would dare suggest the removal of essays (or even dissertations!) at undergraduate level. It would be interesting to see whether such gendered patterns are present at this educational stage and the ratio of female to male undergraduates.



TP said...

Indeed - girls can and should be allowed to be 'better' than boys at school.

Tricking the system to make boys (or girls) look better makes no sense in the end though - it simply become a measure of who completes a particular type of assessment better - rather than who has gained more knowledge or is better at constructing arguments, working out equations etc.

Incidentally, I wonder why no one thought to do 50% exam and 50% coursework - if both types of assessment are biased?

catalpa said...

Exactly TP. If there are advantages to either method of assessment for each gender, why not blend them so there is no obvious advantage? I find this "boys must not do badly" attitude to assessment incomprehensible - and, as Laura points out, adjusting assessment types in higher education in this way would be (rightly) rejected.