Girls now out-performing boys in nearly every HSC subject
There is gender parity in biology, but in chemistry – where the enrollment gender split is roughly 50-50 – an average of 15.6 per cent of boys achieved band 6 between 2019 and 2021, compared to 11.33 per cent of girls.
The achievement gap continues after school, a study by the University Admissions Center found, with boys entering at lower rates less likely to pass all their subjects and more likely to fail them all. That study found being male was “greater than any of the other recognized disadvantages we looked at.”
Glenn Fahey of the Center for Independent Studies said boys were “increasingly on the losing end of the educational battle of the sexes”, and said a key reason was their poorer writing skills. “Of all the available predictors in educational domains, writing is the best predictor.”
“Boys’ continued underachievement in writing does indicate limited opportunities for boys in all potential work and post-school study aspirations,” he said. NAPLAN data shows that by year 9 one in five boys are below the minimum standard in writing.
Robin Nagy, director of Academic Profiles, which examines data for the independent sector, said the new figures showed that the mandatory inclusion of English in the ATAR “systematically disadvantages boys in general”, he said.
“Some students are very driven and capable in other spheres such as mathematics, computers, [and] science, but may find their ATAR pulled down by their relatively low English mark, even if they intend to study STEM at uni,” he said.
Andrew Martin, a professor of education at the University of NSW, also said the ATAR rule disadvantages students who struggle with English. However, dropping it from the admissions rank may prevent them from trying. “We have to get the balance right.”
Alternatives could include adding a sentence about a student’s satisfactory completion of English on their HSC credential, or calculating an ATAR-E – a version that includes English – separately from an ATAR, and letting universities decide which to choose, he said.
However, the head of the Council of Secondary Principals, Craig Petersen, said dropping compulsory English at ATAR was the wrong approach. “What we should be doing is ensuring that boys are engaged and enjoying the study of English,” he said.
Petersen agreed that writing is a key factor in GWK achievement, and all the subjects dominated by girls involved longer answers that required them to use writing skills to communicate.
“Where there is the simple identification and use of formula, boys tend to do well, but when you include it in a problem involving narrative discourse, then girls tend to do better,” he said. “The way a question is asked can favor girls over boys or vice versa.”
Nagy was one of the authors of new research on student motivation and engagement in mathematics, to be published in Frontiers in psychologywhich was found despite a higher positive motivation in the classroom, boys were less likely to invest effort.
The authors suspected the answer lay in gender stereotypes. “Research has shown that putting effort into academic work may not fit the culturally taboo representation of masculinity, or what is considered cool,” the article said.
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