Gender and education: the evidence on pupils in England

Department for Education and Skills, 2007. (134 pages)

This topic paper draws together a range of evidence on gender and education.
It summarises current statistics on the participation and attainment of boys and girls from the Reception Year to the Sixth Form, placing the findings in an historical context where this is possible. Performance data from international research complement the historical data and strengthen the conclusions on overall trends. Subject choice and attainment are the main foci of the paper but gender differences in areas such as special educational needs, school
exclusions, attendance and bullying are also covered.

A large number of research papers have been written on the gender gap in attainment and this topic paper refers to a selection of these. We ask why there are differences in boys’ and girls’ participation and achievement and examine what strategies are effective in tackling boys’ lower attainment levels.

The paper focuses primarily on gender differences of school-aged pupils. In order to understand gender differences for this age group, it is important to draw on the literature on early childhood, biological and cognitive differences. However, it is beyond the scope of this paper to examine this in any detail. Equally what happens at school then determines higher education and career choices but this is not covered here.

An important objective of this paper is to put the gender debate in context by examining the extent of the gender gap and discussing the role of gender in education alongside the role of other pupil characteristics, particularly social class and ethnicity. In addition, the focus is not solely on the concepts of the “gender gap” and “boys’ underachievement” but also acknowledges that, on the one hand, many boys are high attainers and, on the other, that many girls face significant challenges.