Latest and emerging evidence on pedagogical approaches to tackling gender-related underperformance

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This research seminar, which took place at the DCSF on 8 April, forms part of the Department's 2008 themed series of events on tackling the 'gender agenda': "an 18 month themed series of activities working with schools, universities and local authorities and others to identify, develop, and share evidence and good practice in improving the educational outcomes and life chances for specific groups of underperforming boys and girls".

Presented by Professor Becky Francis from the University of Roehampton and Professor Christine Skelton from the University of Birmingham, and chaired by Rob Batho (DCSF adviser on gender), the seminar covered the following topics:

  • Issues concerning academic success for girls and strategies to support girls' achievement
  • Issues concerning boys' achievement and strategies to improve their engagement and achievement
  • The issues and role of parents and family ambition in boys' and girls' achievement
  • What the profession needs to do to address the issues concerning the underachievement of specific groups of boys and girls
  • What the policy makers need to do to address the issues concerning the underachievement of specific groups of boys and girls

The PowerPoint presentation (attached), based on Francis and Skelton's research, was thought-provoking and challenging, and stimulated wide-ranging discussion which demonstrated a variety of conceptions of "gender constructions, their manifestations, and implications". The key points were summarised by Rob Batho (attached).

The findings had led the researchers to the following key conclusion, from which a number of their recommendations for practice and policy stem:

"It is in schools where gender constructions are less accentuated that boys tend to do better - and strategies that work to reduce constructions of gender difference that are most effective in facilitating boys' achievement".

This contrasts sharply with the principles underpinning many currently popular strategies used to address the gender gap, such as teaching to ‘gendered learning styles' and using ‘boy-friendly' materials. Tutors and mentors will need to engage fully with this debate if the researchers' suggestion that this should be more of a focus for ITE is to be realised effectively. Although this may inform and impact positively upon practice in the longer term, as a more immediate measure, Francis and Skelton call for "practitioner reflection/INSET to halt practice that exacerbates gender difference".


Reviewed by:

Sue Field