Hugh Reilly: Boys fail to mind the gender education gap

Hugh Reilly
Hugh Reilly
Share this article
Have your say

According to Lara Wells, astrologer for Upper Annandale’s must-read Moffat News, Gemini folk such as yours truly are “blossoming right now”. Thanks to random interplanetary trajectories, my life is “on the up”.

Sadly, the stargazer’s bubbly prognostications do not chime with my current state of wellbeing, seven days into my Dryathlon tee-total January for Cancer Research.

In terms of reliability, predicting the educational attainment of children is on a par with having one’s future foretold by a frugal fortune-teller reading a cup containing a thrice-used Tetley teabag. However, recent research in America suggests that academic ability is only one factor in forecasting pupil performance. Positive attributes such as attentiveness, enthusiasm and organisation curry favour with teachers. Girls are more likely to be associated with such traits hence, it is argued, the reason why females tend to achieve higher grades.

This education inequality begins in primary school. With hindsight, my underachievement in the wee school can be blamed on my poor attention span. Brenda Hughes, my nemesis, listened intently to each pearl of wisdom dropping from the slightly moustachioed lip of Miss McManus. I, meanwhile, preferred to doodle blazing Messerschmitts screaming earthwards having lost in a dog-fight to a square-jawed Spitfire hero. At the start of every school day, I had a twin focus. First, to get hold of a pristine milk carton before the perennially snottery lad sitting next to me touched the crate. Secondly, to avoid heading a heavy leather ball at the interval, as putting my skull onto an up-and-under had previously caused my height to be shortened by three inches when my neck crumpled concertina-like into my collarbone.

When I became a teacher, I quickly realised that teaching a class overflowing with malleable girls was a tad easier than bringing enlightenment to a pack of teenage hyenas high on testosterone and eager to establish themselves as the territory’s Alpha males. The one thing that hugely interested some of these excitable rapscallions was the weather. For example, a sudden single cry of “It’s snawin!” was the reveille for fellow highly-strung scamps to leap from their chairs and stampede towards the windows to check the veracity of the amateur meteorologist’s outburst. Throughout this uproar, most girls would remain seated, tut-tutting at the immaturity of their male peers.

Lassies are always better organised. Most proudly carry a colourful pencil case filled with HBs and biros, sharpeners, highlighter pens, rubbers (erasers, that is) and a ruler. In contrast, boys are always on the mooch for a pencil, their pen purloined from Ladbrokes having finally run dry. A wooden ruler a lad possesses cannot be used to draw a straight line because of the bite marks made while sitting through a boring Maths lesson.

Boys are grossly overrepresented in lower ability sections, while the sight of a reformed Bananarama standing on the first tee at Muirfield is more likely than spotting a group of girls in a bottom French set. Further, in my experience, hot-tempered girls are mollycoddled whereas irate lads are invariably sent to the cooler. This can be partly explained by the inability of some female teachers to handle male aggression. This passive aggression or, to give its scientific name, profound huffiness of girls is tolerated by female staff, probably, I assume, because they recognise it in their own pattern of behaviour.

The US research discovered that the grades of boys improved when they behaved as girls. Logically, if a school desires to raise attainment, it need only encourage lads to have a more metrosexual outlook to learning. The Scottish education system is a trailblazer in this regard. Just last week, it emerged that a mere 13 per cent of new primary teachers were men (down from the halcyon days of 14 per cent the previous year). In this increasingly female-dominated “petticoat-profession”, male behaviour and attitudes to education are increasingly at risk of a female haranguing.

Closing the gender education gap in Africa, where girls do not achieve their potential, is a UN Millennium Goal.

But until the gender education gap is taken seriously in Scottish classrooms, 
I predict a 
bleak school future for many boys.