Classroom Gender Issues

Posted: June 25, 2013 in Past issues

As a post-graduate teaching student I have studied literature relating specifically to the topic of gender issues in the classroom and the difference in attainment between the sexes. Through my reading I identified four key areas of study and discussion which particularly interested me. Several of the pieces of literature I looked at made reference to the ways in which boys and girls learn, “suggesting gender differences in how individuals think” (Bleach 1998, citing Kohn 1995, page 3). This was a recurring theme and appeared in strongly feminist literature by authors such as Skelton, Francis and MacNaughton, as well as less politically-motivated works. I knew from my own practical experience that boys and girls behaved differently in the classroom, as in any situation, so it does stand to reason that their preferred learning styles will vary. However, I disliked this way of thinking of the two genders as being completely abstract and different from one another; surely all children (and indeed all adults) are an individual composition of gender, social and natural factors. Skelton and Francis also take into account the idea that perhaps male and female teachers teach differently, or “that boys perceive their male teachers in a [more] positive light” (2003, page 7), yet point out that no study has yet identified a “positive link between higher numbers of male teachers and increased primary schoolboy attainment” (2003, page 7).



Several authors discussed social class and background, considering it to be a key factor central to a child’s educational potential. It has been put forward that children from white, middle-class backgrounds are much more likely to succeed academically than counterparts from ethnic minority or working-class backgrounds (Holt 1990; Francis 2000; Skelton and Francis eds. 2003; Mackinnon et al. eds. 1998). I found this interesting and this is an idea that, on the whole, educators do accept as fact. Indeed “we can expect to see many more poor and/or non-white children” (Holt 1990, page 7) struggling academically, in comparison their wealthier, white peers. While this is an interesting factor to consider and explore in a study on attainment in school, it is not very applicable to my own research, as all the children in the class in which my study and work took place are of white backgrounds, and the vast majority come from wealthy, middle-class families.



A further recurrent theme in the works I studied was the idea of children studying ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ subjects at school and consequently moving on to gender-biased careers or places of work (Mackinnon et al. eds. 1998; Coffey and Acker 1991; Bleach 1998). These so-called ‘feminine’ subjects have been identified as creative, language-based subjects, while mathematics and science subjects are considered more ‘masculine’. This idea does seem to feed into my own research and subsequent findings, as the girls in the class I worked with did prefer subjects such as literacy, art and music, perhaps because of a natural aptitude for the subjects. I found that the boys performed slightly better in mathematics than in literacy. The final key theme I identified in the literature was the construction of masculinity by schoolboys. The idea that boys need to create their gender identity by behaving in a certain social manner, such as domination of physical space in the classroom (MacNaughton 2000), as a way of accounting for poor behaviour and attainment featured strongly in feminist literature.


(written by Amy Louise Cunningham)





Francis, B. and Skelton, C. eds., (2001) Investigating gender: Contemporary perspectives in education, Buckingham: Open University Press


Francis B. and Skelton, C. (2005) Reassessing Gender and Achievement, Oxon: Routledge


Head, J. (1999) Understanding the Boys: Issues of Behaviour and Achievement, London: Falmer Press


Skelton, C. and Francis, B. eds., (2005) A Feminist Critique of Education: 15 years of gender education, Oxon: Routledge


Francis, B. (2005) Not/Knowing their place: Girls’ classroom behaviour In: Lloyd, G. ed. Problem Girls: Understanding and supported troubled and troublesome girls and young women. [online] Routledge/Google books, pp9-22 (only page 9-12 are available online), Available from [Accessed on 7thJuly 2008]


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