News and views from north Bristol's urban village

Friday, 16 November 2007

North Bristol Post 16 Centre and the Triumph of Feminism

I took a look round the new North Bristol Post 16 Centre at Redland Green School this week. Much about it was impressive.

One thing that struck me as of more dubious value, however, was the way that the "women's agenda" seems to have won the day at the new school.

Consider the following:

  • In almost every A Level subject area, girls significantly outperformed boys last year. The figures (provided by the school) speak for themselves: in Geography, whereas 100% of the female applicants achieved an A-B grade, only 44% of the boys did; in Psychology, the figures were 50% and 33% while in Business Studies half the girls compared with one-third of the boys achieved an A-B in the A level course.
  • The trend remained strong even in some of the subject areas that boys have historically performed well in: in Physics, 67% of the female students achieved an A-B compared with 50% of the boys; in History the split was 50-42 and in Sports Science only 17% of the boys achieved the higher grades compared with 100% of the girls.
  • Boys did outperform girls at the higher grades in Chemistry (45/20), French (80/85) and Maths (82/33) but these were very much the exceptions that proved the rule.
  • While listening to the presentation on A Level English, I felt like I had fallen into a black hole and traveled back to the 1980s. The syllabus for both the language and literature courses was heavily peppered with feminist ideology, most obviously in the "language and gender" modules and also those investigating "language and power". Apparently it is not enough for 18-year olds to study the content of the set texts; they also need to be taught a particular way of "reading" them.
Of course, there is often a knee jerk reaction to anything that questions the success of girls and women in education. Working in this field myself, I am only too familiar with the reaction - it usually consists of a smirk (or a snort) and a knowing look that says, "Well, you know, boys..." and then trails off into a smug acceptance of the status quo. It never seems to occur that were such an attitude displayed towards girls, the law suits would be flying.

My point is simply this, that while there has been much that has been positive about the achievement of girls in education in recent years, the systemic and wholesale failure to deal with the under-performance of boys remains the elephant in the living room: everyone knows it's there and everyone's ignoring it.

Well, nearly everyone.

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