Sex rules attitudes to school

May 8, 1998

SECONDARY school girls are more career-minded and more likely to be planning to go on to higher education than boys, new research suggests.

They spend more time on homework and less time watching television than boys, and are less likely to be thinking of applying for jobs at school-leaving age.

The early findings of a three-year research project, backed by the Prince's Trust and the Department for Education and Employment, show boys are falling behind girls from the age of 11 in academic and career aspirations.

A survey of the activities and views of more than 9,000 pupils aged 11 to 13 from 54 schools in deprived areas also found parents reinforced these attitudes.

They were almost twice as likely to give their sons as their daughters the impression that they wanted them to "get a job soon", and more likely to encourage their daughters to go on to university.

The research, conducted by John MacBeath, professor of quality in education at Strathclyde University, and Kate Myers, director of professional development in Keele University's department of education, is the first stage in a study of the impact of out-of-hours learning in British schools.

Its conclusions are expected to interest the government, which plans to spend millions of pounds over the next year on supporting study centres nationwide.

Education ministers have also been pressing for schools and parents to increase time spent by pupils on homework.

A report on the findings, based on responses from pupils to questionnaires and on reasoning tests, says it was "heartening" to find that almost all pupils were aware of lunch-hour and after-school activities run by their teachers.

Only 44 per cent of girls, compared with 57 per cent of boys, said they took part in these activities.

But nearly half the girls said they spent more than an hour a night doing homework, compared with just over a quarter of boys. Girls were also more likely to spend time reading for fun than boys, and were less likely to watch television for more than four hours a week.

Boys were almost twice as likely as girls to be planning to look for a job when they were 16, and 29 per cent of boys said they would be job-hunting at 17 or 18, compared with 19 per cent of girls.

A greater proportion of girls than boys (54 per cent compared with 47 per cent) were expecting to go to university, even though boys were more likely to describe their schoolwork as very good or above average.

Girls were also more inclined to discuss their career plans with other people - particularly family members and friends.

Very few pupils thought school a waste of time, but "an alarming number" stated that most of the time they did not want to go to school and that they often counted the minutes until lesson end.

Only 40 per cent of girls and 37 per cent of boys said they liked all or most of their teachers, and only about one in ten said they talked to their teacher about school work.

Less than a third agreed with the statement "most of my teachers always mark my work". While about three-quarters thought discipline in school was about right, just 56 per cent of girls and 62 per cent of boys thought their teachers could keep order in class.

The findings will be stored on a database to allow tracking of changes in student attitude over three years, and gauge the "value added" of any study support out of normal school hours.

*see research papers

* Research papers relating to this page can be found on The THES Internet site: http://www.thesis.co. uk

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