I read with interest the article in the BBC Education News that highlighted an increased reticence among students about asking for help with their maths as they get older. The survey that questioned students aged 10-16 shows a steep decline in students seeking help from 66% at the top end of Primary school to just 33% amongst 16 year olds.
Of the 15-16 year olds questioned half of them gave the reason that they “felt they should already know the answer.” Furthermore, the survey highlighted a much higher proportion of boys asserting that they were “very good at maths.”
These figures led me to consider the proportion of Kip McGrath Scunthorpe students who are enrolled with us for Maths tuition either as a discrete subject or alongside another subject. The results were very revealing and, to a certain extent, made sense in light of the survey results.
The above chart shows the percentage ratio of male to female students at four different stages of schooling. In Primary school the proportions are almost even with approximately 48% of our Maths students being boys. There is then a sharp and consistent decline until we see 100% of our A’Level Maths students being girls. This trend is made clearer by the line graph below.
I then began to wonder how the results of both my in-house research and the article’s survey compared with last years GCSE attainments at A* to C Grade. The results produced by the Guardian’s analysis did not fit with my figures. The Guardian suggested that boys were ahead of girls in both 2010 and 2011 with each gender improving at a similar rate.
This sparked my curiousity so I decided to drill into the figures to try and understand why boys appeared to be outstripping girls even though they were not receiving the same levels of extra tuition. The actual figures when broken down into individual grades revealed that the results aren’t so straight forward. Again, I have produced a graph which illustrates the differences between the assumption drawn by the Guardian using the standard A* to C Grade measurement and what I believe to be the real picture.
As the graph above shows the growth rate of girls attaining A* and A Grades outstrips boys. Additionally, where we see a dip in B Grades between 2010 and 2011 girls’ reduction in progress was less than boys’. It is only the rates of those attaining C Grades that appears to match the inferences drawn from combining all the Grades into one figure. But all these figures would suggest that girls are, overall, catching up with boys in the higher grades within this attainment banding which is why there is a smaller growth rate for C Grade achievers, even though the growth rate for A* to C achievers was the same as boys year on year.
If this is the case, what does this say about the difference between boys and girls in their maths abilities? Most educational professionals would tell you that boys tend to be more mathematically minded generally so it is perhaps, not surprising that boys are ahead of girls allbeit by a small margin. But I believe this reveals a bigger difference between the two genders.
Firstly, when it comes to seeking extra help girls are more likely to ask for support right the way through their school careers regardless of peer pressure wheras boys don’t want to admit that they need help. Our own Centre’s figures would back this hypothesis up as the highest proportion of Maths students is at Primary level when they are young enough to be influenced by their parents to attend even though they may be reluctant at first. Indeed, more often than not, it is the boys who tell us during assessments that they are good at the subject in question even though the actual assessment reveals the opposite to be true.
Secondly, it highlights that even girls who are doing reasonably well at a subject are prepared to seek help and put in the extra work to get a higher grade while boys are more likely to be happy to coast through to a lower grade than they are actually capable of achieving.
Furthermore, the actual figures reveal a worrying downward trend in boys Maths achievement levels which is masked by the oversimplistic A* to C banding of results. This, as can be seen by the linked graphs below, is matched by an upward trajectory in girls achievements over the same period.
According to the boys’ results the .5% dip in boys B Grade achievements almost entirely accounts for the increase of .6% in C Grades. When you allow for the .3% increase in male students entering the achievement band in 2011 .1% can be allocated to the C Grade increase and the other .2% can be attributed to the A* Grade increase. The A Grade figures were static year on year. By contrast, the girls saw a .4% drop in B Grade achievers but only half of this can be allocated to the .2% increase in C Grade results. This leaves a further .2% to be taken from the drop in B Grade achievements and the .3% increase of A* to C Grade achievers overall to be distributed between the higher A and A* results.
It is my belief therefore, based on these figures, that not only are girls doing better in Maths at GCSE, they are also improving their results year on year. In comparison boys are not doing as well as they appear to be and their results are getting worse year on year.
In my opinion there are three basic reasons for this:
- Boys are more prone to being overconfident of their abilities and simply less aware that they need help with maths.
- Even when boys do realise that they need extra help because they are not getting the grades they need they are less likely to ask for assistance either because of male pride or peer pressure.
- Boys are more likely to “coast” and not put in the extra work they need to achieve according to their ability as long they are on target for what they are being told is the minimum required grade.
We had one student who, having chosen his friendship goup early on in his High School career, adjusted his study efforts and achievements in order to remain with his friends. This decision drastically hindered his ability to get the grades of which he was capable.
So what can be done to turn around this worrying trend?
- It is vitally important that parents are aware of these facts. They need to monitor their sons’ progress even more closely than their daughters’ from an early age so that they can get the extra help, if needed, before they fall prey to peer pressure as they get older. In our experience initially reluctant male students who first attend Kip McGrath Scunthorpe while in Primary School are more likely to return for tuition later on in their school careers. This is because they see the benefits of extra tuition, are in the important habit of putting in extra work and want to achieve their potential.
- The Government must stop oversimplifying the results by lumping the A* to C Grades into one measurement of progess in education standards.This is painting an inaccurate picture of boys’ and girls’ achievements in Maths by understating the progress of girls and masking the drop in boys’ results. Worse still, it is giving boys a false impression of what they need to achieve and providing them with an officially validated reason for coasting their way to C Grades.
- It is vital that we instil a positive study ethic in boys at a young age and encourage them to push themselves to achieve what they are capable of and not just do the bare minimum. This, of course, touches on the validity of appropriate levels of homework for Primary age children and we will discuss this further in our forthcoming response to the recent scrapping of the homework guidelines.
In conclusion, we must set the bar higher by paying more attention to the progress of students in A* and A Grades in order to push currently reluctant male students to do better. It is sadly clear that there are far too many students who are being left to under-achieve in order to satisfy an artificial and overly simplistic measurement of the progress in standards. It is not right that any child whether male or female is prevented from living up to their ability levels. At Kip McGrath Scunthorpe we work with all our students to instil the confidence and subject knowledge they need and provide them with the ambition to fulfil their potential.
If you believe that your child needs extra support with their learning please contact us to find out how we can help you.
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