Tackling boys’ underachievement by teaching them differently from girls is “absolutely wrong”, according to Tim Oates, the man who chaired the last national curriculum review.
Mr Oates, research director for the Cambridge Assessment exams group, said that offering boys and girls different styles of learning was misguided. Learning strategies generally given to girls had been proven to work just as well with boys, he added.
Speaking at a conference on gender differences, Mr Oates said that only by studying which learning strategies worked and making them available to both sexes could we reduce the disparity between boys’ and girls’ achievement.
His comments follow a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which finds that white boys from poorer backgrounds have continued to fall behind at UK schools over the past five years.
“A number of people have said that, because we have such a large problem with under-attaining boys, we have to have boy-friendly pedagogy in schools,” Mr Oates said.
“The kind of strategies that girls use – ‘I’m not innately good at this, so therefore I have to work hard’ – have been empirically shown to benefit boys as well, so it’s actually through the examination of what optimises attainment and making it available to all groups by which we will reduce these differences.”
Mr Oates concluded by saying that efforts to tackle differences between the sexes ideally needed to begin at birth – or even in the womb – and continue right through until adulthood.
“You have to look at it in terms of the subtle differences in attainment which can make a difference in terms of subject choice,” Mr Oates said. “And the differences those mean in terms of access to higher education and the labour market.”