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13 March 2001
Boys Lag Behind Girls In School
by George Atkinson

While girls are focusing more on their futures and are prepared to study hard, boys are still adopting anti-work "laddish" attitudes which hold back their educational development, according to new ESRC-funded research.

The research, from the University of Greenwich's School of Post Compulsory Education and Training, involved interviews with 14-year-old to 16-year-old students at three London comprehensive schools. During the research, interviews were conducted with 50 boys and 50 girls, and 12 different classes were observed.

"Girls have recognised that gender discrimination exists in the workplace and are motivated to perform well at school to equip themselves with the qualifications they deem necessary for accessing a good job and for competing effectively with men," says Dr Becky Francis, the author of the report.

Boys also recognise the need for good qualifications but feel that they will be ostracised by their friends or ridiculed if they are seen to be too academic. "Boys continue to adopt loud and disruptive behaviour to gain status among their peers at the expense of their academic achievement," says Dr Francis.

The researchers found that:

* girls' view of femininity has changed markedly since the 1980s, making them more ambitious about future careers

* boys' view of masculine behaviour has tended to remain the same

* "laddish" behaviour still tends to dominate the classroom and impedes all pupils' learning

* teachers often endorse boys' "laddish" behaviour even though it may lead to underachievement

Many boys adopted homophobic, misogynist and violent attitudes to assert their masculinity and appear "normal". This behaviour required disciplinary attention from teachers and reduced the time teachers spent teaching the rest of the class. In spite of this, "laddish" behaviour and the need to "have a laugh" meant that these boys often provided entertainment for the class as a whole. Many girls and some teachers seemed to be amused by such behaviour and even found such boys appealing or attractive. But the behaviour which made the boys a social success in the classroom had a negative effect on their own, and others', academic achievements.

"Girls seem to have become far more ambitious and see their future work in terms of a career rather a stop-gap before marriage or a source of income after marriage," says Dr Francis. "They are also prepared to work hard to get the qualifications to succeed in a career," she adds. "In contrast, many boys appear to be trapped in a way of behaving which gets them short term attention in the classroom, but which does not equip them for the workplace and fails them in the long run."

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