Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Results gender gap is cause for concern

Northern Ireland is again the top performing region of the UK in GCSE examinations but the glowing results of many hide some worrying trends.

As with the recent A-Level results, the number of pupils from the province achieving the highest grades is slightly down this year. Whether this is just a one-off blip after many years of constantly improving results or an indication that performances have reached a plateau will take time to discover.

Of greater concern is the fact that one in four 16-year-olds are not getting the required C grades in mathematics or English, the two compulsory GCSE subjects and the subjects that all employers look for in potential employees. It is already known that there is a worrying problem of literacy and numeracy in primary schools and this is evidently continuing onwards in secondary education. These are essential life skills and for young people to leave school without them is nothing short of disgraceful.

New Education Minister John O'Dowd has already pledged to tackle the gaps in academic achievement and while he has a solid base from which to work, there is also plenty of work for him to do. He will have to address the literacy and numeracy problems, the difference in performance - stark in some cases - between the grammar and secondary schools, especially since he wants to end all selection when moving from primary to secondary education, and the difference in performance between boys and girls in GCSE and A-Level examinations.

It has long been recognised that girls mature more quickly than boys and, particularly in early years at school, they outperform boys. The gap narrows throughout school life but still remains too wide by the end of second-level education.

Unless an answer to this problem is found, many young men will find themselves at a severe disadvantage when they attempt to enter the workforce, fulfilling the fear of some educationalists that the current male students could become a lost generation.

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